2021 June

Four Qualities for Stronger Governance

by Clare Krabill, MHS COO

“If only I knew then what I know now.” This is something we all tell ourselves at some point in our leadership journey. Most likely, at many points along the way!

When I was 36, I began my first tenure on a board of directors and at 42, I moved into my first role as an executive director of a small non-profit. Through the wonders of 20-20 hindsight, I can easily see now how little I understood in those early years about board governance. Through the same lens, I am able to appreciate some foundational qualities that I already possessed and leaned into. It is also apparent to me how important it is both as a board member and as a non-profit leader to continue developing these.

Perhaps you are early on in your own governance journey as a board member or an organizational leader. Perhaps you have decades under your belt. No matter your length of service, good governance is essential to a strategically focused, fiscally stable, and mission focused organization. Alternatively, poor governance can sink the ship. I have witnessed people at all stages of experience demonstrate the spectrum of good to poor governance practices. We all know which side of the fence we would like to be on.

There are some great tools and resources for board governance best practices. MHS offers many resources! While tools and resources are valuable, the difference between a healthy, dynamic board and a poorly functioning one can be found in the quality of board interaction and engagement. As you consider your board, are these qualities evident?

  1. Curiosity. Are you creating space to wonder? Is there a vision for the future? What is happening in the world around you and in the industry? What do you want to learn? Where can you find new ideas? Does your board devote time to identifying knowledge gaps and a pathway to learn?
  2. Faith. Non-profit, mission focused work, especially in the health and human service industry, typically involves high stakes for those you serve. There is obvious potential for stress. Leaning into your faith can add perspective to your work. It can also provide essential focus to your vision. How does your ministry’s vision, programs, successes and failings fit into the arc of God’s eternal kingdom? What is your responsibility and what is God’s? How is faith incorporated into the meetings and work of your board?
  3. Servanthood relationships. Prioritizing, seeking to serve, and engaging respectfully with your constituents: board members, employees, clients, donors, and constituents is essential to your ministry. Are your organization’s values in regards to relationships reflected in your organization’s and board’s policies and procedures as well as your values statements? Do you have processes in place to regularly seek input and feedback from your constituents and peers? If so, are you transparent with the results and do you develop and implement an improvement plan when warranted?
  4. Humility. Curiosity, faith and relationships are all made stronger through humility. Frequently, if one is struggling in any of these areas, a lack of expressed humility can be a root cause. It has been my experience that while at times, a lack of humility can be indicative of over-confidence, it is more frequently caused by guardedness protecting an area of hurt or shame.  When you encounter a lack of humility in yourself or others do you first approach it with grace?  Does your board model humility to each other, the staff and your broader constituency?  If yes, how does this make your organization stronger? If this is not an area of strength, where can you start building humility as a value?

Good non-profit governance incorporates self-reflection, intentionality, strategy, perseverance, and commitment. The rewards are a more wholistic and healthy community. Blessings to you in your important and meaningful work! MHS is here to support you. Let us know how we can help.

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