The Board of Directors represents the membership of the organization. The board sets in place policies, procedures, values and long-term planning to meet the mission of the organization. The board does this through a governance structure or model. The structure a board decides to implement will dictate not only the policies of the organization but also such things as the relationship between staff and the board, and the role and use of committees.
While it is the board's responsibility to determine the governance structure, activities of the organization are carried out by board members, staff, and committees. There is no single right structure for all non-profit organizations, and it may be necessary to change models over time. What can often dictate how a board chooses to govern is the experience of board members and staff, past experiences within an organization, how the organization wants to deliver its programs and services, and how the board views power and authority within the organization.
The activity provided at the end of this section takes boards through an exercise to help them decide which governance structure is best suited to their organization, but the United Way's online board development resource suggests boards look at these three questions when deciding on a governance model:
- Which decisions does the board want to make and which does it want to delegate?
- How much involvement does the board want to have in the operations of the organization?
- How will the reporting relationship between the board and the staff be defined and communicated?
Chris Benninger, a board member of Community Literacy of Ontario and Executive Director of a community-based literacy organization in Ontario, talks about her board's decision to explore different governing styles after years of operating as a working board. Her experience is shared in a brief video clip available for viewing at www.youtube.com/watch?v=rNhDBnFgFnM.