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Book Review: Community Governance – A Framework for Building Healthy Non Profit Organisations

Updated: Sep 30, 2021

This little book set itself the audacious task of proposing a new governance framework built around the core relationships within and around the organisation. Most governance models are based upon concepts of ownership and hierarchy rather than society and relationships.

By leaving aside the vexed issues of ownership, which have never sat easily with governance theory for non-profit organisations, and hierarchy, which is a blunt tool within organisations where passion is the prime motivator, this book has granted itself a wide open space in which to innovate. And innovate it certainly does!

The book starts by introducing a set of communities that allow the board to differentiate between and establish different objectives for each community.  Zeroing in from the widest sphere we are introduced to:

  1. the contact community, people who interact with the organisation

  2. the connected community, people with an affiliation to the organisation, and

  3. the core community, people seeking to fulfil the mission of the organisation.

These categories may be a bit indistinct as they merge into each other rather than having sharp divisions between them but they allow the board to conceptualise their dealings with each community based upon the strength of the relationship between the community and the organisation.

Overlaid upon this community landscape are four key groups that are important to the organisation, the board itself, the staff, the beneficiaries and the ‘moral owners. Apart from the board, whose members are all well within the core community, the other groups transverse the gradient from contact, through connection to the core. At the heart of the model lie the organisation’s purpose, vision and values. These act as the attractive force to bring the group members closer to the core.

The book then examines various aspect of governance from the points of view of each group and discusses how the people in that group are moved effectively towards the core community. This allows some pertinent insights to issues such as recruitment of board members, management of board committees and others, Understanding the social forces at play allows understanding of motivations and reasons that are inexplicable when assessed by other measures, such as why a perfectly good board member from one organisation can fail miserably in another, why staff members lose interest or why Chairmen can suddenly lose the support of the board.

There is a section with tools for board evaluation, committee structures, etc. This could usefully be expanded into some practical workbooks to assist boards in applying the model in practice. The planning section is too short but is possibly a good basic guide for novices.

The book makes declarative statements. Some of these are eyebrow raising and could use some support and clarification to make them easier to accept. Some are just plain wrong, such as the inclusion of audit, risk and compliance on the list of ad-hoc or unusual committees whilst fundraising and board development are on the list of typical or standing committees. Most simply assist in making this a fast read with plenty of impact.

The authors clearly know their subject and can write clear concise English. The book is tight and well constructed with plenty of diagrams that enhance understanding and do not need lengthy explanations.

This is possibly the most exciting advance in understanding governance of community organisations since the introduction of the Carver Policy Governance Model. It is not incompatible with existing models but sheds light on areas that they leave unexamined. It should have pride of place on every non-profit organisation’s bookshelf and be a part of every new board member’s induction. Highly original, clear and useful; I give it ten stars on a scale of one to five.

The book is also mercifully brief. There is only so much original thought that I can assimilate at one time!

* Julie Garland McLellan is a professional non-executive director, board and governance consultant and mentor. She is the author of “Dilemmas, Dilemmas: practical case studies for company directors’, “The Director’s Dilemma”, “All Above Board: Great Governance for the Government Sector” and numerous articles on corporate strategy and governance.

You can purchase copies of Community Governance: A Framework for Building Healthy Non Profit Organisations for your Board from our shop or at !

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