Skip Navigation Links

Mobilizing Your Nonprofit Board

Program Session(s):
March 12, 2018 - May 11, 2018

Application Deadline(s):
February 12, 2018

Program Fee:$2,100

An online program.

Click here to view the technology requirements for the program.

Formerly named Governance as Leadership: Reframing the Work of Nonprofit Boards.

This program qualifies for an Executive Certificate.

Faculty Chair: William Ryan

Program Director: James Brockman

Request Brochure Apply

Mobilizing Your Nonprofit Board helped me understand the theory and philosophy of better governance from a new perspective. Regardless of how long we’ve been CEOs, our relationships with our boards are an evolution of continuous improvement. We can enable our boards to seek a higher level of interaction and governance.

-Randy D. Maiers, President and CEO, Community Foundation of St. Clair County

The board of a nonprofit organization can be among its greatest assets. Yet as many senior executives know from experience, boards often fall short. The press of short-term issues, troubling group dynamics, and the ambivalence of even the best executives (who may worry that a more engaged board will be a more troublesome board) — all can interfere with a board’s capacity to engage in meaningful and consequential governance.  But with the support of conceptual frameworks that clarify their challenges and practical skills that aid them in responding, nonprofit executives can exercise leadership that results in better, more engaged boards.

Mobilizing Your Nonprofit Board is an online program designed specifically for executives in nonprofit and non-governmental organizations who want to tap into the full array of talent and energy within their boards.  Organized around a conceptual framework for overcoming the “micro-governing” that so often leads to low-value, high-maintenance boards, the program will help participants understand how both boards and executives can reframe their work to support more effective and consequential governance. Students should therefore expect to work with tools for analyzing and developing their own leadership.

Building on this conceptual reframing of governance, participants will explore practical strategies and techniques for improving their organizations’ governance.   Many board development resources are focused on the technical or legal aspects of governance, aimed at keeping the organization and its board out of harm’s way.  Governance as Leadership accepts mastery of these competencies as a given, and focuses instead on how to engage a board in ways that will strengthen its organization and improve its strategies.  Throughout the course, special emphasis will be given to the distinctive challenges of senior executives in helping their boards perform better, including the ambivalence of executives themselves, who often want greater board engagement but worry about creating intrusive boards that undermine their leadership.

The program represents a unique online learning opportunity for nonprofit and non-governmental organization leaders to interact with colleagues from around the world as well as governance researcher William Ryan of the Hauser Center for Nonprofit Organizations at Harvard Kennedy School.  Mobilizing Your Nonprofit Board is intended for both executives who report directly to a board and other senior executives who deal frequently with boards of directors. This program is not targeted to board members.

Mobilizing Your Nonprofit Board is designed to reach an audience of nonprofit and NGO leaders based in North America and other parts of the world, many of whom, given the costs and distances, are not able to attend on-campus Executive Education programs offered by Harvard Kennedy School.  Beyond eliminating these barriers, the online experience offers unique learning advantages and opportunities.  Because it is offered over an eight-week period, the program provides opportunities for executives to reflect while on the job, and to experiment with new ideas and approaches in their daily work.  Although there are live components, the format mostly enables executives to access course materials at their convenience.  The workbooks, discussion boards, and use of video and audio curricular materials all take advantage of screen-based learning.

The Mobilizing Your Nonprofit Board program is comprised of four topics, based in part on the highly regarded book, Governance as Leadership: Reframing the Work of Nonprofit Boards, co-authored by William Ryan.

  • Key Concepts of Governance as Leadership
  • Identifying and Responding to Practice Challenges
  • Simulation: Case Study of a Difficult Board Situation
  • The Challenge for Executive Leaders
Each topic is covered in a two-week module that combines readings, online discussion, videos, and a workbook exercise – allowing participants to apply the information learned in each module directly to their organization.


Copyright © 2016 The President and Fellows of Harvard College