Governance Isn’t Just About the Board

Tuesday August 11, 2020 comments Tags: nonprofit, accounting, mission, vision, tools, infrastructure, systems, capacity building, goverance


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Chyla Graham:

What is one thing that you wish more nonprofits knew or more nonprofits acted on?

Rachel Miller-Bleich:

I wish more nonprofits understand and embrace the idea that governance matters. I think that particularly managing governance sometimes gets treated as either a side desk job or an afterthought, or it gets lumped in with another function. My experience working with charitable nonprofits, I don't think this is everyone's experience, but I think it tends to happen a lot at the development office, gets governance. It's something that I think ... I think I'm really underscoring what I was mentioning before, and that is that it's important to take it seriously. It's important to invest the energy necessary to really boost the quality of governance systems. But I think also I tend to have a bit of a pet peeve when it comes to talking about governance as though it's only about the board.

Chyla Graham:


Rachel Miller-Bleich:

I think there's some literature out there that hits on that actually, that hits on the idea that when people talk about governance, they think, "Well, that's the board's job." That is this isolated thing that lives over here and there isn't necessarily that broader understanding that the work of governance for sure, it is the domain of the board, there's no question about the idea that the board or whoever the highest governing body is that they have the authority, but to say that, ""Oh, it's just the board's job," or, "This is just the board is supposed to do the fundraising." As easy as it might be to say, "Well, governance, that's not really related to me," it encompasses the entire organization. It permeates throughout the entire organization, and it is in and of itself a system of which the board is part of. But when you have a broader understanding of the way that it serves the entire organization as a system, I think it's easier for more people to really buy into it and for more people to share that responsibility.

Chyla Graham:

Yeah. That makes sense. I know I've never thought about it in terms of, wow, this permeates the whole organization, but that's definitely how I think about the finances. I'm like, "Everyone plays a part. Even if you don't request a check, you still need to understand the process." So that clearly means it's true for governance. Just because you're not the one who's setting up that rule doesn't mean you don't need to have an understanding about this is how we operate and this is the system we have in place to do things.

Rachel Miller-Bleich:

Right. Right. I would maybe argue that, and I don't know if you've experienced this too, but I think that financially, when you're talking about things more in terms of finances affects everyone, I think it's almost more accessible to people because I think people who are a line workers or people who are even out in the field, they understand that what they do has some impact dollars and cents wise, whether it be staff time or do I have enough money to provide this kind of service, et cetera. I envy that in the sense that there is a little bit more every day pedestrian vocabulary attached to embracing financial stewardship, where they think governance sometimes just seems like a much heavier concept and a little bit harder to wrap your head around a little bit.

Chyla Graham:


Rachel Miller-Bleich:

I don't know if you experienced that or if that resonates.

Chyla Graham:

I do think it resonates. I do get that people think finances is far more accessible. I don't think they always appreciate. They're like, "It happens. Please submit the thing." You know play a part, but I need you to buy into that part.

Rachel Miller-Bleich:

Right, right.

Chyla Graham:

When it comes to making it more tangible, from a governance perspective, you mentioned pre having the language in a finance way, but is helping them come up with a language something that you do? Do you help them say, "How do we make this more accessible to everyone?"

Rachel Miller-Bleich:

That's a really good question, and I think that there are certain touch points that I tend to work inside of that help to emphasize the ways in which governance spreads across the organization. One of the ways in which I do that is I provide a lot of support, not only with boards, but also with committees, and committees are a key way that governance spreads its tentacles across the organization. I think that when you can introduce standard practices and educate people about governance concepts that are specific to perhaps the committee that they work on, or if there is a volunteer advisory group that they work with, those are opportunities to really introduce things like effective meeting management, developing strong agendas, even being able to contextualize parliamentary procedures, things like that.

Rachel Miller-Bleich:

That is one way. Another way is report development. When people have an audience in the board, if they need to do presentations, or if they need to interface with the governing body, that is another really key opportunity to introduce some of the ways in which you can create that language and help people understand how do you communicate with the board that helps them function at a higher level, sort of maintain that 30,000 foot view? I think that it's not so much a matter of everybody in an organization needs to sit down and learn about governance. As much as I would love to teach that class, it's certainly is something that, in different engagements that I've had, it's been a little bit more organic and a little bit more situational.

Chyla Graham:

Okay. I guess that that makes sense, that it wouldn't be an organic process. We need to be in it and then we'll learn, "Okay, this is the turn we need to make." Do you agree, do you think governance is more than the board?


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