Maximizing Board Effectiveness
(Published in "MNALink" by Michigan Non-profit Association, March 2003)

Maximizing nonprofit boards’ effectiveness is important for two reasons. First, the missions of non-profits are important to the world. Second, volunteer leaders provide a valuable resource that should not be squandered.

Thankfully there are many good ways to improve board effectiveness. Some are philosophies (like Servant Leadership), some are process methods (like Knowledge Based Management), and some are merely a set of tips for improving how well the board does its work. All of these are useful and good. Each addresses an area, a portion, or a topic in which boards may learn to do more and do it better. But given the importance of board effectiveness, the goal should be to maximize effectiveness, not merely improve it.

To maximize board effectiveness you have to stop tinkering on the pieces and start changing the entire governance system. Carver Policy Governance? provides a way to do this.

Here are a few of the key elements of the Carver model that lead to whole system change and maximum effectiveness:

Role Clarity
In Policy Governance? the unique and important roles of both the board and management are clearly spelled out and there are mechanisms which prevent the two from stepping into the each other’s work.

Clean and Precise Delegation
The extent and nature of management’s delegated authority is explicitly stated, avoiding constant trips to the board for permission and being held accountable for unstated desires.

A Disciplined System of Logic
Policy Governance is built on a system of logic with mechanisms in place to ensure its use. This reduces policy gaps and leads to clear and well-thought-out conclusions.

Focus on the Results, not the Methods of Achieving Them
The board’s conversation becomes about defining and assuring performance on the organizational purpose, not management methods.

Setting Boundaries to Allow Freedom
The board can safely give management freedom to use its expertise, ability and creativity to achieve the results because it sets explicit boundaries concerning unacceptable behavior and conditions.

Integrated and Self-Correcting System
In a system of checks and balances, it identifies and directs attention to areas that are operating outside of acceptable parameters or that require new policy development.

Intentional and Proactive

The board leads the organization by proactively accomplishing its unique work rather than waiting to react to management actions and issues or customer and member complaints.

Determination of Group Values
Board process and philosophy encourage diversity of opinion, but insist on decisions and actions that represents the official position of the board as a body, not the opinion of a subset of the board.

For more information you may want to visit John Carver’s website:

Eric Craymer, MBA, CMA, owns Growth Management Consulting; a firm dedicated to strategically guiding organizations through successful growth and change. He is a graduate of the Policy Governance Academy. Questions and comments may be sent to him at [email protected]. To learn more about Growth Management Consulting, you may visit their website at

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