Every great nonprofit begins with a great board

Modified and updated from a Vista Global Coaching & Consulting post from June 8, 2016

My experience with nonprofit board governance began in college when I was President of U.C. Berkeley’s Sports Club Council, comprised of 30 different clubs on campus. I had no experience with nonprofit governance. I didn’t realize that my role as Council president was broader than just running meetings. I didn’t have any understanding that the individual club members could and should play a role in strengthening the overall mission of the Council.  Over the course of the past few decades, I have learned a lot about what contributes to a bad, good and great board and why that is important for nonprofit success. If only I knew then, what I know now. 

Vista Global has worked with more than 100 organizations to strengthen the performance of their boards. The high demand for trainings on board governance remains constant.  Board members are hungry for guidance on defining their roles and responsibilities. Executive Directors most often want to learn how to engage their board in more effective ways. Board development is not a simple one-time activity, but a continuous cycle of self-reflection and self-improvement.

In our workshops, we explore different governance models and their benefits. Some organizations thrive using the Policy Governance Model designed by Dr. John Carver or the Governance as Leadership mindset developed by Richard Chait, Bill Ryan and Barbara Taylor.  Other nonprofits may benefit more from Community-Engagement Governance, a framework designed by Judy Freiwirth, that shares governance responsibility across the organization’s constituents, community members, staff and board.

Another key component of these trainings is the importance of a great working relationship between the Executive Director and Board Chair.  In fact, certified mediator and consultant Joan Garry believes the relationship between the Executive Director and Board Chair “tells you more about the health of a nonprofit than any other single factor.”

A key finding in BoardSource’s most recently published survey on nonprofit governance, Leading with Intent, was:

“Chief executives and board chairs agree that the board has an impact on organizational performance, and that two particular board characteristics matter most: the board’s understanding of its roles and responsibilities, and the board’s ability to work as a collaborative team toward shared goals.”

Best practices don’t end with the board members sitting around the table. Our workshops explore the 7-step board development cycle.

  1. Define Roles: What are fiduciary roles and what are support roles?
  2. Develop Vision: What kind of board do we want to be?
  3. Determine Structures and Agenda: What committee structure will best support the work of the organization? How should we design agendas to maximize engagement?
  4. Evaluate Board and Board Member Performance: How well are we performing as a body? How well am I contributing as an individual board member? 
  5. Identify and Recruit Board Members: What skills and attributes are we missing and how do we identify the right board members?
  6. Orient, Train and Develop Board Members: How can we provide a comprehensive onboarding program and continuous learning opportunities to develop board member’s skills and engagement? What is our board leadership succession strategy?
  7. Acknowledge and Celebrate: What are we doing to celebrate our successes and to make board service fun?


Your organization is only as healthy and effective as your board. Interested in learning more about nonprofit governance? Read more about Vista Global’s workshop offerings and contact Mary today!