Boards: the sum is greater than its parts

Share this article:

Last month, we explored six practices that can improve individual board member performance and engagement. Today, I want to dig into what makes the whole board tick and function.

In reality, board members are always dancing between individual motivations and the shared responsibility to act in the best interest of the organizations they serve. But like a puzzle, a high-performing board truly epitomizes the philosophy that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

As a CEO, it’s easy to believe that you have many bosses because you are one employee of the board. One client told me, “I have 23 bosses; how am I supposed to navigate that?

Pro Tip: CEOs and board chairs must help their boards understand that they govern as a body, not individually.

How, you ask? Well, let’s dive in.

7 strategies for governing as one body

  1. Be duty-bound, in a good way. The foundation of high-performing boards starts by understanding and embracing the three duties of care, loyalty, and obedience. These duties are stipulated in statute and pretty similar state-to-state. The essence is to act with prudence, avoid individual tempermentalism, and abide by the law. It sounds pretty basic, but these three fundamentals often get missed.
  2. Focus on results. As a body, high-performing boards ask themselves, “What are the results we will hold ourselves and the organization accountable to?” It’s not just important, but it’s also exciting to do something great!
  3. Attend to the three core functions. Those are: setting strategic direction, ensuring the right resources are in place to support the mission and vision, and monitoring and improving performance, not just for the organization but also for the board. It’s good to evaluate board performance regularly.
  4. Recognize you’re part of a team. Far too many organizations do little to support the board in becoming “we”. The football coach, Don Shula, recognized (as many other coaches do) that when we get a new player, we become a new team. Investing in team culture is a critical trait among high-performing boards.
  5. Time is the most precious resource a board member has; use it wisely. We like this ratio for using time in board meetings: 10% administrative stuff, 20% operational performance, 60% strategic topics, 10% affirm decisions, delegate work to staff and committees and evaluate the meeting’s effectiveness.
  6. Engage between meetings. They say committees are where the work gets done. That’s because the board knows what’s essential and delegates work to these groups to engage in action-oriented, results-producing, strategic work.
  7. Know your role. High-performing boards define the bright lines and the messy gray. They recognize it can get murky fast when governing. Clarity of roles for board members individually, the board collectively, the CEO, and committees, along with who has authority (and when), helps everyone do their best even when things are messy.

Why it matters

Serving on a board isn’t a pastime. It’s purpose-driven work. Boards of directors serve a crucial role in ensuring that an organization is serving the public good and that it delivers impact, performs well, and is durable for the long haul. Effective governance changes the world for the better.

Thank you, change makers, for contributing your unique gifts to our communities—you’re making here, better!




Complimentary Seminar: Board Governance

May 2nd, 11:30am-1:30pm | The Club at Flying Horse
Our friends at Integrity Bank are hosting a complimentary lunch-and-learn where I’ll be diving deep into the key board governance pillars as well as a few insights from the field.
RSVP at:

Level up your leadership every month with our newsletter.

Start thriving with the latest resources – straight from Kimberley’s desk. Together, let’s make here better, starting with your free guide to the Governance Gold Standard. After downloading your free guide, you’ll receive just one email each month—packed with resources, tips and tools.

Access more articles like this to elevate your nonprofit's clarity and confidence

Hey there, I'm Kimberley

Welcome! I believe our social sector organizations are at the forefront of making here better. With more than 33 years of diversified fundraising and nonprofit experience, I partner with courageous organizations committed to building clarity and confidence. Let’s connect and chart your nonprofit’s path to thriving. 

Scroll to Top