Six Characteristics of High-Performing Boards

board development and revitalization intentional practices mission. vision. values Jan 09, 2024
Six Characteristics of High-Performing Boards


Great organizations in the social sector do six specific things. They demonstrate high performance by focusing on these features. This may well serve as a benchmark for you, or at least a topic of board discussion!


This is based on the extensive research by Leslie Crutchfield and Heather McLeod Grant, as reported in their seminal work Forces for Good: The Six Practices of High-Impact Nonprofits. We’ve referenced their work previously but it seems like such a good place to start the new year.


The first four practices are more external; they represent how these groups dramatically expand their impact outside the borders of their own organizations. In observing this external focus, they also realized that working outside the organization entails special practices inside that help these not-for-profits relate more effectively to their environment. This led them to discern two additional internal practices that enable high-impact not-for-profits to operate successfully in the outside world and bridge boundaries.


More specifically, they learned that great social sector organizations do these six things (in the researchers’ own words).


1. Advocate and serve.

High-impact organizations don’t just focus on doing one thing well. They may start out providing great programs, but eventually they realize that they cannot achieve systemic change through service delivery alone. So they add policy advocacy to access government resources or to change legislation, thus expanding their impact. Other nonprofits start out doing advocacy and later add grassroots programs to supercharge their strategy. Ultimately, all of them bridge the divide between service and advocacy and become good at doing both. And the more they advocate and serve, the greater the impact they achieve.


 2. Make markets work.

Tapping into the power of self-interest and the laws of economics is far more effective than appealing to pure altruism. No longer content to rely on traditional notions of charity or to see the private sector as the enemy, great nonprofits find ways to work with markets and help business “do well while doing good.” They influence business practices, build corporate partnerships, and develop earned-income ventures—all ways of leveraging market forces to achieve social change on a grander scale.


 3. Inspire evangelists.

Great nonprofits see volunteers as much more than a source of free labor or membership dues. They create meaningful ways to engage individuals in emotional experiences that help them connect to the group’s mission and core values. They see volunteers, donors, and advisers not only for what they can contribute to the organization in terms of time, money, and guidance but also for what they can do as evangelists for their cause. They build and sustain strong communities to help them achieve their larger goals.


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4. Nurture nonprofit networks.

Although most groups pay lip service to collaboration, many of them really see other nonprofits as competition for scarce resources. But high-impact organizations help the competition succeed, building networks of nonprofit allies and devoting remarkable time and energy to advancing their larger field. They freely share wealth, expertise, talent, and power with their peers, not because they are saints, but because it’s in their self-interest to do so.


 5. Master the art of adaptation.

All the organizations in this book are exceptionally adaptive, modifying their tactics as needed to increase their success. They have responded to changing circumstances with one innovation after another. Along the way, they’ve made mistakes, and have even produced some flops. But unlike many nonprofits, they have also mastered the ability to listen, learn, and modify their approach based on external cues — allowing them to sustain their impact and stay relevant.


 6. Share leadership.

We witnessed much charisma among the leaders in this book, but that doesn’t mean they have oversize egos. These CEOs are exceptionally strategic and gifted entrepreneurs, but they also know they must share power in order to be a stronger force for good. They distribute leadership throughout their organization and their nonprofit network — empowering others to lead. And they cultivate a strong second-in-command, build enduring executive teams with long tenure, and develop highly engaged boards in order to have more impact.


How do you compare?
Do these findings resonate with your own practices and impact?


What are your main “pain points” dealing with motivation?

What advice would be most helpful to you?
And we always assume that you are asking for a friend!

Get in touch. We’ll address your questions and concerns in an upcoming blog post.




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P.S. May I ask a tiny favour? Would you mind sharing this blog with one person? I would love it. You can post the links in your Facebook Groups, LinkedIn or even send an email.

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