Governance is an important area, and something we teach all of our incubated charities about. We wanted to write up a public explanation of how and why we chose the board we did, in a more transparent way than is typical in the NGO sector. We aim for this to both be used as an example and an explanation to the broader community of why we made the calls we did.
When charities first launch, they often start out with a board of convenience. This is one that is ready to step in if things are going really poorly, but typically have fairly minimal time to contribute. As CE got bigger and thought more about governance, we wanted a board that would have both beneficial context and more time to contribute to actively improving CE. When selecting our new board members (~12 months ago) we had some unique advantages. Our funding situation was stable, we had a strong roster of external advisory board members, and a positive reputation in the communities we were working with. This meant that our key criterion was the board being able to help with really key strategic questions when it came to CE as a whole. Decisions like what to do if the two co-founders disagreed, or if CE was considering a major pivot. This meant board members needed both the time and context to have informed views on these sorts of questions.
We have always liked the idea of the board being as directly connected to impact as possible. For example, some boards have a beneficiary or a person in close contact with those who have been affected by the charity. However, CE helps a huge number and variety of beneficiaries through our charities, many of whom would be hard to put on a board (e.g., children under five and factory-farmed fish). Still, we can get more direct by considering the population we directly serve—charity founders. Advisors who have previously gone through our program have consistently had useful feedback, and our charity founders have highly relevant experience when it comes to running and governing their own organizations. Overall, we liked the idea of having the alumni of our program becoming the board members who the CE team is ultimately accountable to. When selecting which alumni made sense, we had a few pretty simple heuristics. For example, we did not want two founders from the same charity (as they would bring the same knowledge and background) and we wanted a fairly balanced group across different cause areas (our current board contains two people focused on global health, two focused on animals and one focused on meta). We also leaned towards board members from more mature and successful charities, as well as those we thought would prioritize CE and put its impact in the first place and be comfortable voicing disagreements with co-founders.
Over the past 12 months we have been happy with the results, and have generally been pleased by the board's increased involvement and strategic guidance to the organization. The board is not a replacement for other forms of good governance or a much wider range of advisory board members (something we may write another post on at some point). We are also continuously improving our systems; for example, we have recently set up a form, linked here, to send a message directly to the CE board. The message or the fact that one have sent it won't be shared beyond the board without ones consent. Incubatees, the public, and CE staff can do so whenever it would help CEs impact.