Organizational effectiveness/Learning center/Decision-making and governance
This is a page about a strategy included in the organizational effectiveness learning center.
Use this page as part of the organizational effectiveness tool.
Decision-making and governance
All Wikimedia organizations need effective ways to make decisions as a group. Strategies in this area will be very different for organizations with different structures working in different contexts. For informal organizations, a shared understanding of who makes decisions and how can be important to making sure the group agrees with decisions that affect the group. For formal organizations with boards, it is important to follow local laws and regulations as well as best practices in the field of governance. Organizations with larger budgets will take on increasing responsibility in this area.
Recommendations for decision-making and governance
If your organization wants to get better at decision-making and governance, here are some concrete recommendations that may help your organization build capacity in this area. Some of these recommendations may be more or less applicable depending on your organization’s strengths and gaps in this area, and your organization's context. We realize many organizations are already using strategies like these.
We have included some recommendations for informal organizations that may not have a board, as well as recommendations for formal organizations with a board. Standards for governance may be specific to your organization’s context. For example, the Wikimedia movement includes organizations with and without staff, which may have different needs for governance. We have a separate section with recommendations about managing your organization’s finances, but the size of your budget could also mean that you need higher standards for governance. Finally, most organizations will be subject to local laws and regulations around running an organization in their jurisdictions.
For informal organizations without boards
- Make sure your group knows who is responsible for making decisions that affect your group.
- Make sure decision-making for your group is in the hands of more than one person.
- If leadership is in the hands of many people, consider forming committees to focus on specific tasks and make sure it is clear who is responsible for moving tasks forward.
- It may be a good idea to write down the process for making decisions, so that everyone agrees on the process in advance.
- Get clarity around who is responsible for doing what in your organization. If it is helpful, you may want to consider writing down the roles of different people in your organization in a public place that everyone in your organization can see.
- Consider articulating and writing down expectations for people involved with your group, if this is applicable.
- When your group meets to make decisions, make sure you write down the decisions made and your rationale, and share it with other members of the group.
- Make sure at least two group members are involved in important communications, so that information and background is less likely to be lost if one member leaves the group.
For formal organizations with boards
- Identify whether your board is a “working board” involved in programs and operations, or a “governing board” which solely engages in strategy and high-level questions.
- Depending on your context, you may find it useful for the board to take on specific roles that complement other volunteer or staff activities. For example, they may lead strategic planning; cultivate contacts on a policy level who may be more amenable to influence from a “senior level” executive; establish policies on collecting data about activities or making meaning of the data; or establishing conflict of interest policies.
- Consider how subcommittees on your board could make it more effective. Subcommittees could create a plan in a particular area, which they then bring to the board, or alternatively the board may create a plan which is then carried out or executed by the subcommittees. The point of having subcommittees is to increase efficiency and keep board members engaged in the areas they are most excited about and skilled in.
- Beyond subcommittees, consider how the structure of your board makes the roles of your board members more clear. For example, if you have officers on your board, set clear guidelines for what each officer is responsible for and how officers are selected.
- Make sure there are opportunities for new people to join the board, and be proactive about recruiting people with the right skills and knowledge to help your board be more effective. This could be done by creating rotating positions, term limits, expanding the number of board seats, or recruiting board members for co-option.
- When bringing new board members on who are less familiar with your organization and work, assign the board member a mentor who is familiar with your organization and work.
- Identify if there are gaps on your board in terms of skills or knowledge that is needed for your organization to achieve its goals. If gaps are identified, make a plan to proactively search for board members with the skills and knowledge needed.
- Ensure your organization’s board has legal and ethical standards (for example, a conflict of interest policy in place.
- Articulate the process by which board members are selected or elected in writing, and make it publicly available. Ensure that board elections or selections are conducted fairly, and according to your organization’s guidelines.
- If diversity is a priority in your organization, select or nominate board members with diverse backgrounds to serve on your organization’s board.
- Before your organization hires staff, ensure your board creates the necessary policies and procedures needed to hire, manage, and let go of (when needed) staff managed directly by the board. Consider the implications for your board in terms of the time and resources needed to recruit, orient, and manage staff.
- Have written expectations for board members. Establish an accountability mechanism for when a board member does not meet these expectations. It should be someone’s role to track the activity and engagement of board members.
- Board members are volunteers too, and key volunteers at that, so many of the strategies around recognizing and orienting your volunteers may help board members be more effective.
- Consider creating a board handbook, outlining your organization’s policies and expectations.
- Create clear channels or systems for your board to communicate and work together. For example, a mailing list or wiki only accessible to board members.
- Articulate the process your board uses to make decisions in writing, and make it publicly available. Record minutes of your board meetings and make them available to your board.
- Create a communications protocol, so that staff and board are clear about who is communicating with whom, and about what.
- Post your organization's policies publicly, so that they can easily be accessed.
For organizations managing staff
- Post clear job descriptions including qualifications and what each staff member will do for use while planning and recruiting staff, and make sure they are available once staff have been hired so that there is always a clear record of what staff are expected to do.
- Consider creating a document that clearly outlines the different roles of staff, board members, and volunteers, in decisionmaking and ask every board member and staff person to sign off on the plan.
- Have human resources policies / policies about staff in place and publish them on your website. Ensure you are meeting any requirements of local law or regulations.
- Before you consider hiring staff, ensure that you have stable funding in place to continue paying your staff. Consider how hiring staff may affect your organization's different funding options and cash flow, and how bringing on staff will affect the sustainability of your organization in the long term.
- Understand how bringing on staff affects the responsibilities and roles of board members. Make sure that staff and board members understand who is responsible for overseeing the work of staff.
Wikimedia organizations with expertise in decision-making and governance
If your organization has expertise in decision-making and governance, please list yourself here and briefly describe your expertise that others wanting to build capacity in this area can contact you:
- Wikimedia UK has a range of experience as regards working with volunteers and welcomes contributions from Wikimedians further afield to our discussions
- Please add your organization’s name here, with a description of your expertise.
Here are some learning patterns related to this strategy. Create your own learning pattern here, if you have learning to share in this area.
Ongoing challenges in the area of decision-making and governance
If your organization would like to share an ongoing challenge in this area, that is or is not addressed in these recommendations, please write it down here as a starting point. We can try to build resources in this area or help different Wikimedia Organizations connect to address the challenge together.
- Please add a description of your challenges in this area here.
Please add useful resources you know about, whether created by the Wikimedia movement or in another context.
- Example of a Board Handbook for Wikimédia France
- Good governance codex from Wikimedia Osterreich
- Example of a document defining responsibilities of staff and board from Wikimedia Nederland
- Example of a staff policy: Wikimedia Eesti's staff strategy, Wikimedia Eesti's staff job functions
- Example of guidelines on Conflict of Interest: Wikimedia Foundation Policy)
- List of governance resources from Foundation Center (United States focused)
- Tons of governance resources at BoardSource
- "Ten Basic Responsibilities of Nonprofit Boards" (BoardSource)
- Nonprofit board portal compiled by The Bridgespan Group
- A Better Board Will Make You Better
- Board Job Descriptions (BoardSource)
- Wikimedia Foundation Board Handbook
- The board's role
- Governance tutorial
- Governance issues facing nonprofits
Create a capacity building plan for decision-making and governance
If your organization has decided to prioritize capacity building to improve your ability to decision-making and governance, please create a table like the one below. The steps in this table can be part of your organization’s master capacity building plan, as suggested in the User Guide.
If you would like to share your capacity building plan publicly on Meta, you can use this button to create your capacity building plan.
- Richard T. Ingram, Ten Basic Responsibilities of Nonprofit Boards, Second Edition (BoardSource 2009).