Reimagining Governance

An initiative exploring new approaches to governance for nonprofits.

Complex times offer opportunity.

When it comes to nonprofit governance, we need to be visionary. These are complex times that are shrinking or stretching resources, challenging organizations to do things differently, and presenting opportunities for innovation.

Reimagining Governance, a collaborative initiative of ONN and Ignite NPS, is helping organizations to explore different ways to fulfill governance so it’s better positioned for complex futures. Its goal is to uncover new approaches to governance in nonprofit organizations by provoking a shift in the way we think about and do governance. The initiative is creating pathways for organizations to create their own governance innovations, based on their unique circumstances. It’s called a Transformative Design Process. Learn more about the evolution of the initiative in our Framing Report.

Journeys of reflection, discovery and action on governance

The Transformative Design Process, currently still in active development, takes different forms. There is an opportunity for an immersive journey that an organization can take to generate innovative approaches to governance. The process is supported by a variety of tools, educational prompts, and resources.

Reimagining Governance will be convening Learning Labs throughout Winter/Spring 2021 to facilitate a deep-dive of experimentation, learning, and revision. Our goal is to have the Transformative Design Process ready in the late Fall of 2021 for organizations to be able to use.

A unique approach

Reimagining Governances takes a unique approach, with the intention of shaking up traditional ways of talking about and doing governance. Watch our Winter 2020 video update for a more in-depth explanation!

  • We present governance through a wider lens of a complex system, with all its dynamic and interconnected parts, rather than only focusing on board effectiveness. It starts with the Governance Ecosystem, which describes the major factors and influencers that intentionally and unintentionally shape how governance works, including its structures, process, people, and relationships.
  • This view of governance evolved into a Governance Framework, which describes the components and how they are interconnected. We have also created a resource called Board Essentials, which describes what the board and no other entity must do. Download the Governance Framework and Board Essentials below!
  • The Transformative Design Process help organizations to map their own governance system and generate custom-built innovations, rather than provide a prescriptive model or list of best practices.
  • We adopt an aspirations-based approach, rather than a problem-solution approach which can often stay grounded in fixing symptoms. Reimagining Governance research uncovered that organizations spend too much time fixing symptoms, and not enough time building the right design for governance.

Connect With Us

Rather than a fixed advisory group, Reimagining Governance has been hosting Design Pods which form and re-form as we go, providing feedback that shapes the Transformative Design Process and its components. If you’re interested in finding out more about Design Pods, email our Project Lead, Erin Kang, at

Use our Governance Framework to have conversations with  your team and board and ask critical questions about your organization’s governance system. Tweet or email us your stories of what happened!

Sign up for our Reimagining Governance listserv to receive direct updates on upcoming opportunities.


We operate under a Creative Commons Licence- Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0, so you can copy and redistribute the material. We ask that you give appropriate credit: Created by the Ontario Nonprofit Network. We require that materials and documents be shared in their entirety, and have branding intact.

Resources and Reports

The current design of nonprofit organizational governance isn’t optimal or sustainable. This creates an opportunity to transform the design so that it’s more consistently effective and able to respond well to today’s complex environment. The design includes governance structures, how governance functions are fulfilled, and how they all work together within its ecosystem. Read more in our Framing Report.

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