Nonprofit Governance 03: Constituent/Representative Board Model

The research on nonprofit governance further highlights the constituent or representative board model as another model of governance. According to this style of governance, there is a direct and clear link between the organisation’s board and its constituents. The Board of Directors (BoD) are also representing the constituents who also participate in policy development and planning. This participation benefits the constituents as they are actively engaging in and have a control over the policy decisions through their representatives in the BoD. However, due to the representative nature, the BoD’s under this model are generally large in size. The research highlights that they could be as big as 40 in some instances.

The clear difference of this model in comparison to the policy governance model is that while they both continue to maintain centralized decision making, this model has a value addition of a decentralized input which leads to a healthy operation. However, in most occasions the relationship between the BoD and the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) are not clearly defined and although the numbers are large the relationship between the BoD and CEO seems no different to the policy governance model. This also means that BoD sticks to its role of providing policy directives leaving the CEO to manage the operations within the limitations set by them.

In fact, if the model is working effectively it is also noticeable that there is a broad base of participation which gives meaning to the power of decentralization as this governing system allows the perspectives of constituents also be represented at the board level. Ideally if the system further had sub-committees which are action oriented, that will bring more effective governance avoiding most downfalls of the policy governance model. Given the large number of members in the BoD compared to a normal BoD the communication and coordination are expected to be effective. Particularly because there need to be a clear process of obtaining the input by the constituents.

This also bring the challenges of this model on the other hand. As communication is a key concern and a feature for the success of this model, there are pressures and demands for communication to be timely, adequate, consistent, clear and accessible. While the system of sub-committees on one hand will assure inclusiveness unless properly coordinated and managed it could also be the most unproductive system. Another frequent complaint within this system is identified to be the lack of focus on policy directives and broader concerns of organisational management and significant amount of time spent on constituency interests, leading the BoD meeting to another level of a management one.

My personal experience of this type of a model reminds me that conflicts among BoD members are natural and common. On the other hand, they are also not easily resolved and leads even to a level of damaging the board relationships. With representative interests and positions, there is a tendency to pursue self-preservation rather than shared interests.  The model therefore generally requires some form of written contract that needs to be renewed regularly to keep it in force.

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