staying flat, staying thin, staying effective

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Created for MNCN's 2010 Annual Nonprofit Conference. Innovative Governance Models: Staying Flat, Staying Thin, Staying Effective Over the past years, nonprofits, including volunteer-led grassroots organizations, have faced a growing number of challenges. In the context of a changing environment, where nonprofit leaders are expected to do more with less and nonprofit volunteers are often expected to do more than before, is the traditional hierarchical form of nonprofit governance still relevant? In this session, we'll explore a governance structure for volunteer-led, grassroots organizations that offers shared power and decision making, greater flexibility and ability to innovate, and potential for greater organizational sustainability. Attend this session to discover an alternative for volunteer-driven organizational governance models, learn how you can effectively engage volunteers, board, and staff utilizing the model and see if it's a fit for your grassroots organization.


  • Innovative Governance Models Staying flat, staying thin, staying effective! Created for the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits Annual conference - October, 2010Jamie Schumacher

  • Before we begin... a few questions!

  • TodayIssues with the traditional modelCharacteristics of an effective boardDissolving Myths Case Study 1: the Northeast Community Development CorporationCase Study 2: Altered EstheticsTakeaways

  • The Traditional ModelPros:Efficient (Scientific Management)Order/StructureUnderstood

  • The Traditional ModelCons:Lack of flexibilityNot built to incorporate changeAssumed benefitKey Man weakness

  • About HierarchiesRigid hierarchies tend to have authoritarian leaders+Authoritarian leaders can make subordinates feel vulnerable, helpless=Emotionally charged, stressful, potential negative environment.

    (Goleman 2007, Wilkinson 1996, Gabriel 1998, Lynch 1979)

  • Modern OrganizationsInstead of rigid, need to be:More connected More flexibleMore adaptive to change

  • Nonprofit OrganizationsCharged with serving the needs of their communitiesGreatly utilize volunteersFulfill a different bottom lineBoards are stewards of the communityNeed something better than the traditional hierarchical model

  • Flat, shared-power structures with clear expectations...a better model for nonprofit management.

    Role-Based Boards

  • Role-Based Boards (Structure)

  • Non hierarchical (one member, one vote)Specific roles for EACH board member (no warm bodies)Board chair = project manager (not a default boss)Annual board reviews compulsory2-3 year term commitmentsBuilt to transition, built to change

    Role-Based Boards (Structure)

  • Strong, Role-Based BoardsAre able to do more with lessAre more effectiveCan better engage volunteersCan flexibly respond to changing needsCan retain, sustain, or grow an organization

  • MYTHS!

  • You need an Executive Director to get things done

    MYTH #1

  • You need paid staff to be accountable

    MYTH #2

  • Hierarchy is the best way to organize

    MYTH #3

  • Nobody wants to actually work on a board

    MYTH #4

  • The collaborative process sounds great, but you cant really get anything done

    MYTH #5

  • Consistency is better than change

    MYTH #6

  • Prior board membership = valuable experience and knowledge

    MYTH #7

  • Northeast Community Development CorporationA story of preservation.

  • About the NE CDCThe mission:The Northeast Community Development Corporation works to promote the economic development of Northeast Minneapolis in a manner that furthers the interest of both businesses and residents

  • The Role of CDCsVaries from region to regionEconomic developmentNeighborhood organizingSmall business servicesRetail recruitment and commercial corridor workHousingand more...

  • NE CDCs HistoryCreated to represent 13 neighborhood organizationsJackson Street artist housingNE Futures - community conversationsSmall business planning and economic developmentCentral Avenue Special Services District20+ year history in the community

  • Changing EnvironmentBetween 2005-present, big changes for neighborhood orgs & CDCsPrevious strategic planning not effectiveFrom 6 FTE to 1 part time staff person in two years timeEnergy, resources, at a minimum

  • The SituationPending projects (1.3 million invested)Minimal staffLimited resourcesLittle opportunity for immediate fundingUrgent need for organizational refocusing

  • The ResolutionBoard decided to go into a restructuring periodPreserves resourcesAllows for reflection and restructuringMaintains accountability for pending projectsRetains history and networks

  • The Model

  • The ResultsPreservation of organizationRe-engaged boardPreservation of resources

  • Altered EstheticsA story of growth and sustainability.

  • About AeThe mission:Altered Esthetics works to preserve the historical role of artists as a voice of society through our exhibitions, events, services, workshops and programs.

  • Aes HistoryFounded in 2004 in Northeast MinneapolisCommunity arts organizationOver 60 group exhibitionsPublications, music compilations, and moreBrought the work of over 1500 artists to public viewBegan hands-on curatorial and gallery director internship programsBeginning solo exhibitions programs and workshops 2010/2011

  • The situationKey issues for Ae :SustainabilityDelegation of dutiesClarity of rolesEngagement of board membersThe value of being volunteer-driven

  • Our SolutionThis model:Shares power and responsibilityIs more flexible and adaptive to changeRequires greater communicationGrows organically using committees, systems and networksWorks well for a learning organization

  • The Model

  • The Role of Information TechnologyTelecommutingE-communicationWiki

  • Altered Esthetics - The ResultsBoard members are more engagedOrganization is more innovativeCreativity has increasedOrganization is more flexibleCommunication has increasedThe organization is sustainableOrganization = growing!

  • Shared-power board structures are better model for small orgsSustainablePreserves resourcesClear expectationsHelps curb AgendaAids board reviews and individual assessmentsRequires a greater contribution/commitment

    Role Based Boards - Possibilities!

  • Every board can grow and improve (large or small, old or new)Creating an environment hospitable to change can have many positive repercussionsFinancial resources do not dictate an organizations ability to make a lasting impact in the communityVolunteer driven orgs can do more with less!


  • Board service can be simultaneously engaging, rewarding & effective

    But mostly...Thank you!contact information:

    Many workers come to a non-profit because they support the mission of the organization. When they become disengaged from the decision-making process, morale can be adversely affected. In a small volunteer-driven organization, this problem is exacerbated. Without the financial motivator of a paycheck, members are almost entirely disengaged from the very process that brought them to the organization in the first place.


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