Excellent Boards Are Made, Not Born

December 28, 2022 |
1 minute read

Boards that are exemplary for their adherence to best governance practices have certain identifiable traits. But this is no accident—they have taken steps to elevate their practices and maintain them at the highest level.

These high-performing boards often exhibit a common set of traits:
  • The first trait is one of the most important: full board involvement and a sense of engagement and  participation. Behind any front-page article about a nonprofit that has had serious issues there is almost always an inside boardroom story. Often it involves an autocratic or insular board chair, or there was an executive committee that did everything and essentially rendered the rest of the board little more than window dressing. Whichever way it plays out, the full board was left out and simply wasn’t engaged.
  • Next, a respect for process and a focus on results that further the institution’s mission. Respect for process
    means ensuring that the board has strategic plans in place; that it has and adheres to bylaws; and delegates
    meaningful work to committees that function within a sound structure that enables them to get things done.
  • Board members should think of themselves as innovators. The heart and soul of innovation is being willing to fail. When boards embrace this, they learn to say, “We’re prepared to take these chances—to take some new directions—knowing failure is a possibility, and wherever possible we agree to fail fast, learn our lesson and move on.”
  • Recognize the difference between strategic focus and management overreach. Strategy is first and foremost a responsibility of the board—operational micro-management is not.
  • Have an effective partnership with the executive director or CEO. One of the core responsibilities of a board is to determine the mission and the vision of the organization, but the staff leader should partner in this exercise.

All boards should, in principle, aspire to a place in the upper tiers of governing bodies. But what does excellence mean for a nonprofit board and how is it measured? More important, how does a board benchmark itself as it works toward that goal?

Benchmarks for Boards CTA 2022

Allison Kaspriske


Allison Kaspriske


Allison Kaspriske


George Suttles

Executive Director

Stay connected with the Insights Blog

Popular Blog Posts

Market Commentary | Insights Blog

Chart of the Month | The Surprising Relationship Between Money Supply and Inflation

The potential for rising inflation is becoming a top concern for many investors and consumers. Many believe that inflation is already here as evidenced by price increases in commodities, homes,...
Perspectives | Insights Blog

The Case for Using the Higher Education Price Index® (HEPI) to Define Inflation for Colleges

When calculating return targets for an endowment portfolio, a conventional piece of the equation is often the Consumer Price Index (CPI). CPI plus 5% is the common short-hand formula for institutions...
Governance And Policy | Insights Blog

Endowment Management and the Three Primary Responsibilities of a Board

The fourth blog in the “Six Ps of Investment Stewardship” series addresses People, specifically how boards function within an organization. To learn more about the first four principles in the series...


Certain information contained herein has been obtained from or is based on third-party sources and, although believed to be reliable, has not been independently verified. Such information is as of the date indicated, if indicated, may not be complete, is subject to change and has not necessarily been updated. No representation or warranty, express or implied, is or will be given by The Common Fund for Nonprofit Organizations, any of its affiliates or any of its or their affiliates, trustees, directors, officers, employees or advisers (collectively referred to herein as “Commonfund”) or any other person as to the accuracy or completeness of the information in any third-party materials. Accordingly, Commonfund shall not be liable for any direct, indirect or consequential loss or damage suffered by any person as a result of relying on any statement in, or omission from, such third-party materials, and any such liability is expressly disclaimed.

All rights to the trademarks, copyrights, logos and other intellectual property listed herein belong to their respective owners and the use of such logos hereof does not imply an affiliation with, or endorsement by, the owners of such trademarks, copyrights, logos and other intellectual property.

To the extent views presented forecast market activity, they may be based on many factors in addition to those explicitly stated herein. Forecasts of experts inevitably differ. Views attributed to third-parties are presented to demonstrate the existence of points of view, not as a basis for recommendations or as investment advice. Market and investment views of third-parties presented herein do not necessarily reflect the views of Commonfund, any manager retained by Commonfund to manage any investments for Commonfund (each, a “Manager”) or any fund managed by any Commonfund entity (each, a “Fund”). Accordingly, the views presented herein may not be relied upon as an indication of trading intent on behalf of Commonfund, any Manager or any Fund.

Statements concerning Commonfund’s views of possible future outcomes in any investment asset class or market, or of possible future economic developments, are not intended, and should not be construed, as forecasts or predictions of the future investment performance of any Fund. Such statements are also not intended as recommendations by any Commonfund entity or any Commonfund employee to the recipient of the presentation. It is Commonfund’s policy that investment recommendations to its clients must be based on the investment objectives and risk tolerances of each individual client. All market outlook and similar statements are based upon information reasonably available as of the date of this presentation (unless an earlier date is stated with regard to particular information), and reasonably believed to be accurate by Commonfund. Commonfund disclaims any responsibility to provide the recipient of this presentation with updated or corrected information or statements. Past performance is not indicative of future results. For more information please refer to Important Disclosures.