Governance for boards of small organizations: Part 4

Small government boards share unique governance considerations with boards of small nonprofits.

Governance for boards of small organizations, parts one, two and three have focused on the differences between boards of large and small organizations.

Bonfanti concludes the paper with four recommendations for small boards to take to address some of the challenges of their relative size. The first is to work more closely with other nonprofit organizations. This can be an effective way to share resources which neither might be able to afford on their own, and in some cases, to achieve some economies of scale. Small governments have been doing this for years, and in Michigan are being strongly encouraged to do more. Not all intergovernmental efforts save money or increase effectiveness, so potential partnership arrangements need to be analyzed carefully whether between nonprofits, governments or combinations of the two.

Recommendation two is about instituting or expanding the fundraising culture. As we discussed earlier, this could apply to small governments as well, in terms of the culture of the organization, cultivating the kind of communication and relationships with funders, also known as citizens or voters, which encourages them to want to be partners in the work. Ballot requests for tax increases are always challenging for local governments. Better communication with citizens will build greater understanding of how governments work and the services they provide.

“Build an advisory board”, is Bonfanti’s third recommendation. This recommendation has tremendous potential to bridge the gulf that currently exists between many small, local governments and their constituents. Each member of the board might have an advisory board from the district that elects them. Advisory board members would meet regularly with the elected board member to receive information about current issues and offer their thoughts regarding solutions. This would not only prepare them to give valuable input, but also prepares them to run for office in the future. If each advisory board included people with diverse experiences and backgrounds, unintended consequences of government board decisions might be reduced as well.

Finally, Bonfanti recommends that small nonprofits “formalize the roles and relationships between staff and board”. Many governments, both large and small, would benefit from following this advice. Many of the difficulties encountered by boards of all kinds and their staff would be reduced by having a clear definition and understanding of the roles of each, and then working within that understanding.

Bonfanti’s research related to small nonprofits identifies several issues that are applicable to small governments as well. Small governments, like small nonprofits, are different from their larger counterparts, and will benefit from further research and development of best practices which are specifically tailored to their needs.

Michigan State University Extension campus faculty and county based educators have provided research based information and education to local government boards for over 50 years.

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