Book Summary: Lessons from exceptional boards.

The Source 12: Twelve Principles of Governance That Power Exceptional Boards

by BoardSource

BoardSource developed these twelve principles to help nonprofit and association boards maximize their collective capacity. The principles are aspirational, outlining how an empowered board is a strategic asset. They point to what is possible and how boards can add lasting value to the organizations they govern. The full report is available for purchase at:


  1. Constructive partnership. Exceptional boards recognize the importance of a productive partnership between the board and the CEO. They build this partnership based on trust, candor, respect, and open communication.
  2. Mission-driven. Exceptional boards define the mission, articulate an inspiring vision, and identify the core values. They see mission, vision, and core values as statements of critical importance – touchstones that are integral to the board’s deliberations.
  3. Strategic thinking. Exceptional boards focus on what matters most and think strategically to set the organization’s direction. They align their goals and agendas with the organization’s strategic priorities and use the priorities in framing the chief executive’s assessment and in recruiting board members.
  4. Culture of inquiry. To make sound and shared decisions, exceptional boards institutionalize a culture of inquiry, mutual respect, and constructive debate. They seek out information, challenge assumptions, and question conclusions to arrive at solutions based on analysis.
  5. Independent-minded. Exceptional boards are independent-minded. They prioritize the organization’s interests above all else. There is no undue influence on their voting by loyalty to the CEO or by the seniority or reputation of their fellow board members, staff, or donors.
  6. Ethos of transparency. Exceptional boards ensure donor, stakeholder, and public transparency by timely and accurate reporting of financial, operational, and outcome information. They ensure that every board member has access to relevant information when making decisions.
  7. Compliance with integrity. Exceptional boards promote strong ethical values and have a disciplined approach to oversight. Using mechanisms such as independent audits, they ensure accountability, enhance their understanding of the organization, and reduce the risk of waste and fraud.
  8. Sustaining resources. Exceptional boards have bold visions and ambitious plans that they support with sound financing mechanisms and attention to infrastructure and internal capacity needs.
  9. Results-oriented. Exceptional boards focus on results. They measure the organization’s progress toward its mission and evaluate the impact of its programs and services. Efficiency, effectiveness, impact, and quality of service are measured against peer benchmarks and return on investment.
  10. Intentional board practices. Exceptional boards structure themselves to fulfill their governance responsibilities and support organizational priorities. They adapt structure and adopt practices to changing circumstances. Governance design and practice are intentional, not incidental.
  11. Continuous learning. Exceptional boards practice continuous learning, evaluate their performance and assess the value they add to the organization. They incorporate learning opportunities into their work.
  12. Revitalization. Exceptional boards sustain their energy through thoughtful recruitment, planned turnover, and inclusion. They understand the connection between mission, strategy, and board composition. They recognize the value of a fresh perspective and the risks of closed groups. And they renew themselves through continuous recruitment and diversifying their experience and perspectives.