Reimagining Governance - Ontario Nonprofit Network

Reimagining Governance

About Reimagining Governance

The words "Reimagining Governance", where "Reimagining" is purple and "Governance" is green.

Reimagining Governance is a collaborative initiative between ONN and Ignite NPS. Our goal is to provoke a shift in how we talk about and do governance in nonprofit organizations so they’re better positioned for our futures. This initiative is creating different kinds of pathways for organizations to design their governance based on their unique circumstances.

Asking bold questions about how we do nonprofit governance

Good governance in nonprofit organizations advances organizations’ missions and strengthens communities. Governance is a complex system that is unique to every organization and extends beyond simply board performance. In this time of transformation, urgent and game-changing forces are reshaping what we mean by governance, who participates in it, and how we design truly equitable and agile governance practices, structures and cultures. Organizations are also confronted with naming and challenging the systems of inequity that the nonprofit sector is rooted in (read our blog post, “Equity, power, and the future of the nonprofit sector”).

We must ask bold questions about how governance design stays relevant to the shifting environment; there is so much room for innovation. It’s past the time to move beyond trying to fix problems that are rooted in old habits and long-held assumptions. We can create new aspirations for governance that open up new ways of doing things.

Why reimagine governance?

Earlier in the initiative, we shared a Framing Report that described the problem to be solved, challenges, and opportunities. We also shared a video about the unique approach that Reimagining Governance is taking. Now, you can learn about four big reasons for reimagining governance that have emerged from this work through our Learning Labs in this quick video:

Reimagining Governance: Learning Labs

Reimagining Governance is working alongside several nonprofits to experiment with these resources and a Transformative Design Process so they are ready for broader sharing and use early in 2022. The Learning Labs are a highly iterative two-way learning experience and prompting new ways of working. We’ll be sharing the stories and learnings later in fall 2021, so stay tuned!

Here’s what Learning Lab participants are saying about the journey

“It’s getting us started on a new way of looking at governance, so we can have different kinds of conversations moving forward.”

“We’ve been caught in the ‘we’ve always done it this way’ as a default. It’s important to look to ‘possibilities’ for our governance, without being shackled by old rules.”

“We want to lift and elevate our governance and build new governance muscles.”

Join the Reimagining Governance movement

Join us and many other governance Champions. Are you a governance geek? Interested in helping grow the movement? Contact Reimagining Governance Lead, Erin Kang (she/her), at for more details. 

Stay in the loop by signing up for our Reimagining Governance listserv.

We are grateful for all of our governance Champions and networks, our Learning Lab collaborators, Design Pod participants, and all who have contributed their time, thoughts, and energy towards this work in varied ways.

Why does it matter now?

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

What do we mean by governance?

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

Resources to help you reimagine governance

Here are some resources that can help your organization begin its journey of reimagining governance. New resources are added regularly.

  • Map your governance through a wider lens of a complex system. This framework will help you to better understand all the influencers that shape your governance design and to visualize each of the components of governance so they can be put back together creatively.
  • Board Essentials kick-starts a conversation about how to share governance decision-making more broadly, enabling more voices to be included. It identifies the responsibilities that must be met by the board based on the legal and regulatory requirements so there is a clearer understanding about what can be shared or delegated, and what can be done by others.
  • Impacts on Governance Design is new research describing eleven broad trends and forces in the nonprofit sector and how they converge to create six critical impacts on governance design. This resource can be used to identify how your governance design has been, or could be, shaped by these impacts.

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.

More resources

Project Supporters

Ignite NPS, Turning insights into Action
City of Toronto
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Lyle S. Hallman Foundation logo



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Governance Framework



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Reimagining Governance

April 30, 2019


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