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Harvard Kennedy School

Mobilizing Your Nonprofit Board

Harvard Kennedy School Online Executive Education Programs
Mar 9—May 8, 2020
USD 2200

How it works


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The board of a nonprofit organization can be among its greatest assets. Yet, as you may have experienced, boards often fall short.

The press of short-term issues. Troubling group dynamics. They all can interfere with a board’s capacity to engage in meaningful and consequential governance—and your ability to drive success for your organization.

But in Mobilizing Your Nonprofit Board, you'll learn the practical skills and conceptual frameworks that will help you lead more engaged boards.

Learn Practical Response Skills

Led by Professor William Ryan, Mobilizing Your Nonprofit Board is a Harvard Kennedy School-designed online program designed specifically for executives in nonprofit and nongovernmental organizations who want to tap into the full array of talent and energy within their boards.

This nonprofit board governance executive program is organized around a conceptual framework for overcoming the “micro-governing” that so often leads to low-value, high-maintenance boards. The program will help you understand how both all parties can reframe their work to support more effective and consequential governance.

Based in part on Ryan’s book, Governance as Leadership: Reframing the Work of Nonprofit Boards, the program explores four key topics:

  • 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


Mobilizing Your Nonprofit Board is an eight-week online program that will equip executives of nonprofit and nongovernmental organizations with the tools they need to engage their boards in more consequential and meaningful work that produces greater value for their organizations.

This is a valuable opportunity to interact with colleagues from around the world as well as governance researcher William Ryan of the Hauser Institute for Civil Society at Harvard University.

Building on a conceptual reframing of governance, the program explores practical strategies and techniques for improving your organization's 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. The Governance as Leadership framework assumes mastery of these competencies and instead focuses on engaging a board in ways that will strengthen its organization and improve its strategies.

Throughout the program, we give special emphasis to the distinctive challenges of senior executives in helping their boards perform better. This includes the ambivalence of executives, who often want greater board engagement but worry about creating intrusive boards that undermine their leadership.

From the Classroom Directly to Your Organization

The program's curriculum focuses on four topics, each covered in two-week modules that combine readings, online discussions, videos and workbook exercises. There will also be live online sessions with Professor Ryan as well as substantial group work throughout the program.

Because the program is offered over an eight-week period, it provides opportunities to reflect while on the job and to experiment with new ideas and approaches in your daily work.

Although there are live components, the format enables you to access course materials at your convenience. The workbooks, discussion boards and video and audio curricular materials all take advantage of screen-based learning. You should expect to spend at least 10 hours a week on coursework.

Who should attend

Mobilizing Your Nonprofit Board is designed for nonprofit and NGO leaders around the world. It is intended both for executives who report directly to a board and other senior executives who deal frequently with boards of directors. This program is not for board members.

Recommended applicants include:

  • New executives facing the challenge of working with and developing a board for the first time
  • Experienced executives who are frustrated that their high-potential boards are not sufficiently engaged in supporting the organization
  • New or experienced executives who recognize the value of a more engaged board but are apprehensive about the risks, including the possibility that the board will intrude on their management work or, for lack of knowledge, press for misguided strategies
  • Seasoned executives who are committed to continuous learning and board improvement
  • Senior executives who interact frequently with boards and are preparing to assume chief-executive responsibilities in the future

Participants in this online program will following the same guidelines as their colleagues attending on-campus programs, where participation is based on thorough preparation and active engagement throughout the program.


Bill teaches in executive education program at the Kennedy School, where he focuses on governance and accountability in the nonprofit sector. His course Mobilizing Your Nonprofit Board was among the School’s first online offerings, and has attracted nonprofit leaders from over 60 countries and ev...

Next dates

Mar 9—May 8, 2020
USD 2200

How it works

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