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Nonprofit Board Models Can Make or Break Your Marketing

How Board Structure Impacts Marketing Effectiveness

Although all nonprofit boards fulfill the same basic roles and responsibilities, the approach organizations use to meet these duties vary widely. Some nonprofits empower their Executive Director to take the lead on high-level operations, while others depend on board members to orchestrate the day-to-day functions and make the strategic decisions.

Conscientious nonprofits often consider the capacity of their team members, stage of development, administrative requirements, and financial health when selecting or changing their board models. However, organizations can easily forget to reflect on how their marketing needs will be impacted by board governance.

Keep reading to learn more about how the top three nonprofit governance models can affect your marketing efforts:

The Carver/Policy Board Model

John Carver, author of Boards Make a Difference, conceived of the Carver Board Governance Model. This policy model requires a strong relationship between the board of directors and CEO or Executive Director. It “enables the board to focus on the larger issues, to delegate with clarity, [and] to control management’s job without meddling.”

If a nonprofit has marketing expertise on staff, the Carver Board Model is a great option. The marketing staff can quickly make decisions and implement strategies without having to go through a board approval process. On the other hand, a nonprofit with a small or inexperienced team would benefit from the hands-on involvement of marketing-savvy board members.

The Patron Governance/Fundraising Board Model

Nonprofit leaders frequently refer to the patron governance model as a fundraising board. Like advisory boards, fundraising boards have less influence over the CEO and staff.

The main responsibility of a patron board member is to fundraise. Board members are expected to have a great deal of wealth or influence, and make significant personal donations, and solicit their network to do the same.

The patron model can take a lot of pressure off the CEO and marketing staff; they have the time to focus on messaging, community outreach, and content creation. Marketing still needs to be donor-centric, but board members take the lead on making the donation ask.

However, the patron model massively limits who can and will serve on the board of directors. A nonprofit must be highly established, well connected, and respected to attract a fundraising board. Organizations may or may not end up with marketing expertise and diversity on the board.

Management Team/Working Board Model

The management team model represents a direct contrast to the policy model. Like for-profit corporations, the board handles human resources, fundraising, marketing, and finance. Typically, the board runs these functions through committee decisions that might not include staff.

New nonprofits often default to management team boards because they do not have the staff needed to carry out operations. Established nonprofits can also benefit from the expertise and direct involvement of board members who aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty.

If your organization needs the time and expertise of board members with marketing experience, a working board is a great option. In contrast, this model can hinder the marketing staff’s ability to do their jobs by adding red tape or involving well-intentioned board members without relevant experience.


Keep in mind that “all organizations undergo a metamorphosis over time that calls for […] sometimes major overhaul of their governance structure.” If your board structure sacrifices marketing for tradition, it might be time to explore a different approach or incorporating a hybrid model. With the right internal leadership and external support, your organization can have a solid foundation to meet your marketing goals.  

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