Governing Non-profit Organizations
Submitted by Margaret Stout
Department of Public Administration
John D. Rockefeller IV School of Policy and Politics
West Virginia University
With the publication of the revised bylaws of the Community Development Society in this edition of the Vanguard, some of us may have organizational governance on our minds. In simple terms, governance is the process of steering an organization by establishing policies and procedures and then making decisions accordingly. In a membership organization like CDS, the members establish the destination and the board of directors is responsible for making decisions about how best to get there. Ideally, the board receives ongoing guidance from committees composed of members so that ongoing input is used to chart the course and make course corrections when necessary.
It’s of value to note that many CDS members work in higher education—a realm of large bureaucracies with byzantine governance policies and procedures that govern academic and administrative domains. Those functions are then delegated according to different faculty and staff roles. However, many other CDS members work in non-profit organizations that are governed by a board of directors and operated by paid staff, often supported by outside service providers and consultants.
CDS governance has largely relied on volunteers who engage in service via the board of directors, standing organizational committees, and various operational ad hoc committees. Furthermore, CDS has relied heavily on contracted services to fulfill administrative needs. However, at some point in most non-profit organizations’ developmental path, increased professionalization is required to stabilize administrative and management functions and ensure organizational sustainability.
Both the previous and current board of directors believe that time has come for CDS. To more adequately support the volunteers and maintain stable operations, the board determined that a part-time Managing Director was needed, and Justin Dollard was hired to fulfill that role. Furthermore, the board decided in July 2018 that our organizational structure and Policies and Operational Guidelines needed a full review in order to move the board of directors from an operating model to a policy model of governance. This developmental process began in earnest at the October 2018 board retreat.
To clarify, an operating or working board of directors completes the lion’s share of organizational functions, including governance. A governance or policy board of directors focuses on steering the organization, while staff and contracted service providers do the work required to keep the organization moving on that course. This is not to say that a policy board no longer completes important operational functions. Rather, the balance shifts more toward governance and away from operations.
To support this style of governance, something more than an administrator is needed. Typically, non-profit organizations have an Executive Director who supports the board in setting policies and procedures and oversees or personally executes their implementation. As the revised bylaws indicate, this is the course CDS is now following and this chart will guide the board’s review of the Policies and Operational Guidelines. Stay tuned for ongoing information about our progress!