Board Governance: The Struggle is Real

Do you sit on a board? Do you work with a nonprofit board of directors?

If so, chances are at some point (or most days), you have experienced frustration and wondered why the board does not function better.

The struggle is real.

I was recently encouraged by these words:

“Board governance is a journey, not a destination.

The goal is to take steps towards excellence.”


A colleague, Janine Mason shared this at the University of San Diego State of the Nonprofits Summit during the Board Governance panel discussion. Janine has been a member of and led board directors as the Executive Director of The Fieldstone Foundation. It is probably why she took on the role of Co-Chairing the USD Kaleidoscope Award for Exceptional Governance to recognize, celebrate, promote and inspire excellence in nonprofit governance in the San Diego region.


As a nonprofit leader or a board member, you are not alone if your board struggles to create and maintain an effective board. Bad habits affect most boards.


Janine’s Kaleidoscope Award Co-Chair (and Executive Director of North County LifelineDonald Stump posed this question to the audience:

“How can I create an environment and

a space for a board to make decisions as a group, to find the will of the board?”


It is a learning process to identify  nonproductive board behavior and understand how to work with board leadership to change board and organizational culture through simple, positive actions.


Janine recommends: “Creating a board culture where members are valued for their professional and personal background.”


Donald Stump shared his experience: “I started recruiting corporate executives to the board who could bring connections and their networks to help the organization. They hated talking about fiduciary stuff, but they loved talking about strategy on setting priorities and goals, positioning, planning, and measuring progress towards goals. Our members kept using their ‘for profit business lens’ to make suggestions for a nonprofit. It was an opportunity to have a robust conversation around how a nonprofit business model works.”


Kaleidoscope Winner, Kurt Gering, Board Chair, Ocean Discovery Institute advised to be clear about financial commitments: “Let’s be expressly clear about what is expected of board members: personal giving. We were in a capital campaign and we wanted to have 100% board participation. It was transformational for us because it allowed for some folks who did not want this level of commitment to step off, and it gave our board a way to measure success.”


Kurt also recommended educating your board about the organization so they can be effective ambassadors: “One of our new initiatives is a board education plan. Internally we have developed a quarterly education topic. We then facilitate dialogue and offer time to discuss how we can integrate the concepts in our governance at the next board meeting.”


To apply for the Kaleidoscope Award, click here.


Solutions to other common board governance struggles:

  1. Do your board meetings run for hours and hours without making decisions on or accomplishing important items? Check out this blog for solutions.
  2. Do your board members all look alike, lacking diversity in ethnicity, age, gender and skills? Check out this blog for solutions.
  3. Do you have “deadweight” – board members who don’t show up for meetings or follow through on their commitments? Check out this blog for solutions.
  4. Does your board need to get “on board” with being a board? Check out this blog for solutions.
  5. Do you fail to achieve 100% board giving each year? Check out this blog for solutions.


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