When building an organisation from the ground up, there will come a time when you can’t go at it alone anymore. You’ll need advice, direction, and a few pairs of hands. It’s at this point where most founders will put together a board of directors. Now, not all boards work the same - some are distant, some are hands-on, most are somewhere in-between.
There’s a surprisingly broad spectrum of governance models that nonprofit boards structure themselves around. Let’s look at four of the most common models and see what might work for you.
1. Advisory Model
The advisory board is one of the most traditional styles of nonprofit governance seen today. Members of an advisory board typically have little direct decision making power but very high influence over the CEO, offering them - you guessed it - advice. An advisory board will be made up of industry luminaries who are able to provide highly professional skills and a vast network of connections to the nonprofit. The organisation benefits massively from these skills and connections, leveraging them to boost credibility, fundraising, and advertising.
2. Cooperative Mode
Somewhat uncommon in larger nonprofit organisations, a cooperative board is one where all members make consensual decisions as equals. It’s the most democratic governance model, only acting on decisions that have passed proper voting procedures and requiring every member to be committed to the organisation’s mission. There is no real hierarchy in a cooperative board, only the group consensus.
3. Management Team Model
One of the most popular governance models for small- to medium-sized organisations, the management team board takes a lot of cues from corporate- style management structures. The board will be split into ‘department’-esque committees, each responsible for HR, fundraising, event planning, marketing, any area that needs overseeing.
There will likely be a few more members sitting on this style of board to facilitate this. This allows board members to focus and develop their skills in a particular area and keep decision-making as efficient as possible.
4. Policy Board Model
A well-known model developed by author John Carver in his 1990 book “Boards That Make A Difference.” With this governance method, the board grants most of its authority to the CEO, allowing them full control over the organisation and its workings. The board then becomes the ‘second-in-command’ of the organisation, with the CEO at the top. There is rarely any standing committees in place when using this structure, as the board and CEO will work together as a team, applying their whole attention to each task.
While these are four of the most common styles of nonprofit governance, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re the perfect ones for you and your organisation. There’s as many unique models as there are businesses that need them, and finding the one that works for you is a matter of self-analysis and research. So there’s no better time to start! Get cracking!