Reimagining Governance

We need to transform the governance of nonprofit organizations

The status quo won’t be enough

Finding and maintaining the right kind of governance leadership is critical to the vibrancy and sustainability of nonprofit organizations, and the communities we serve.

The current design of governance – its structures, culture, and processes – isn’t optimal or sustainable.

It’s time to stop the inertia

Governance is an ecosystem with many players, influences, and factors. The below graphic was developed based on research and insights from people working in and with the nonprofit sector. There are external (blue) and internal (pink) players, as well as organizational-level (yellow) and systems-level (white ring) influences. We need to critically examine the very design of governance so that effective governance is not wholly dependent on maintaining an effective board.

This Governance Ecosystem Map outlines some of the major factors and influences that can impact an organization’s governance.

For nonprofits and charities, the traditional model of a board of directors isn’t keeping pace with the changing nature of the sector. Governance is important for the accountability and responsibilities of an organization, but how else can we be doing this?

We’re changing the conversation from “How do we make boards more effective?” to “How do we govern more effectively?”. 
 
Reimagining Governance, in collaboration with Ignite NPS, is an initiative that will advance new approaches to the governance of nonprofit organizations. The aim is to steward the sector towards new, innovative approaches to the way nonprofit organizations are govern, including its structures, culture, processes, and practices. 

Add Your Voice

We know there are no quick fixes or simple answers, and that people from the sector itself will be critical to successfully reimagine governance. Add your voice to the conversation: 

Watch our short video series, Disrupt the Narrative, featuring 1-3 minute videos with 5 stellar sector leaders. Comment, share, and tweet us what you think! @o_n_n 

Take 60 seconds to share your thoughts and see what others are thinking in our interactive discussion space

Read and share our Framing Summary, a culmination of our framing phase of work (December 2018-July 2019), where we’ve compiled the learnings and insights gathered from a wide span of people working with or within the nonprofit sector across Ontario. 

Scroll down and sign up for our Reimagining Governance listserv to receive direct updates on upcoming opportunities for involvement and input. 

The context for nonprofits is changing, yet the basic form of nonprofit governance remains fundamentally unchanged.

“In recent decades, nonprofit governance has been enhanced by new practices that shift boards of directors away from operations, engage board members more effectively, and better explain their roles and responsibilities. Factors as varied as new technologies, sophisticated financing models, hybrid organizational structures, and shifting demographics have altered the way organizations engage with each other, conduct their work, and accomplish their missions.” Next Generation Governance: Emerging Leaders’ Perspectives on Governance in the Nonprofit Sector

“Nonprofits are experiencing a growing demand for their services from increasingly diverse communities and increasing demands from governments and funders. There is also greater focus on collaboration, mergers, network-based models of organizing, cross-sectoral partnerships and common approaches to measuring impact in the sector.” Peering into the Future: Reimagining Governance in the Non-Profit Sector, Mowat NFP

“This challenge is complicated by the significant leadership transition that will occur over the next five to ten years as the baby boom generation exits governance leadership and the smaller Gen X can’t replace it… This shortfall is amplified in rural communities as young people move away for school and work.” Next Generation Governance: Emerging Leaders’ Perspectives on Governance in the Nonprofit Sector

Governance determines who has a voice in making decisions, how decisions are made and who is ultimately accountable.

“It is a framework of responsibilities, requirements and accountabilities within which organizations operate, including regulatory, audit and reporting requirements, and relationships with key stakeholders.”

C. Cornforth, (2011). Nonprofit Governance Research: Limitations of the Focus on Boards and Suggestions for Further Research” Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly 41:6: 1116- 1135


We’re grateful for the financial support of Ignite NPS, the City of Toronto, and Toronto Foundation.