Defining Good Governance

A big part of successful district management is effective governance. With so many people involved and interests concerned, ensuring efficacy can be a tall order to fill.  

How can you gauge if yours is a well-governed organization? 

Kimberly Bares, president of PLACE Consulting, speaking on good governance at the recent International Downtown Association annual conference.

Kimberly Bares, president of PLACE Consulting, speaking on good governance at the recent International Downtown Association annual conference.

Consider these five core areas to determine your organization's strengths and potential areas for improvement. 

1. Effective, shared leadership  
Sharing responsibilities between and among the Board and staff is critical to effective leadership. Transparency in processes for both recruitment and elections is essential, as is the clear definition of roles and the steadfast respect for boundaries. Nowhere is this more important than with the roles of Board Chair and CEO whose responsibilities must be clearly understood and respected to ensure optimal leadership and avoid conflict.  

The governing Board must have in place protocols, policies and procedures regarding conflicts of interest, confidentiality, personnel, financial management, meeting and committee standards, among others. It is the Board’s responsibility to ensure that these conventions are followed, updated regularly and well integrated into daily life of organization.

Composition of both the Board and staff should represent the myriad diversity of the community they serve and each person’s contributions and commitments should be evaluated annually.

2. Financial health and appropriate risk-taking
Financial health is paramount to proper governance and the long-term stability of an organization. Generally accepted accounting procedures need to be in place, including appropriate cost charging and reserve maintenance. Financials should regularly be analyzed, evaluated and shared with the Board and senior staff, assessing trends and appropriate risk opportunities designed to expand organizational scope, impact and return.

High-caliber staffing directly correlates to organizational health and vitality. Compensation must be competitive and tied to performance.

3. Supported, encouraged and well-managed staff
Each organization is unique and will require staff with talent and skills that mirror the organization’s needs. Job descriptions need to be up-to-date, with openings posted broadly and supported by an open and fair interview process. Training, especially for managers and supervisors, is critical and all staff should be expected to pursue ongoing professional development opportunities. Teamwork is fundamental to the successful organization’s culture and needs to be actively encouraged and rewarded at all levels. To the extent possible, upward movement should be allowed and succession planning in place.

4. Prioritization and planning
Annual strategic planning is a given for well-governed organizations, including a regular review of organizational mission, vision and values. Programs likewise require consistent evaluation for effectiveness, impact and cost benefit. Progress should be tracked using a scorecard or other evaluative method that allows victories to be celebrated, changes made as needed and mission-creep prevented.    

5. Connectivity, community and stakeholders
Every organization must ensure that there is a reliable feedback loop both to and from the general community and invested members, as well as various stakeholders. A range of tools can be employed to accomplish this including an annual general meeting, annual survey, intercept surveys, membership and networking meetings and other opportunities for representation, partnership and collaboration.

It is also important that an organization be represented in various partnerships and collaborations in and around the area it serves. These activities will involve meeting with funders, elected officials, city staff, colleagues, constituents, institutional representatives and other influencers and truth-tellers that impact a district. 

Achieving effective governance can be challenging, especially for Board members and staffers who are busy managing many duties and may be too close to the existing organizational structure to identify potential growth opportunities. PLACE Consulting, composed of experienced professionals with extensive backgrounds in hands-on district management, offers organizational assessment, strategic planning and training services that support positive organizational management.

Kimberly Bares, president of PLACE Consulting, spoke as part of a panel on Good Governance at the recent International Downtown Association annual conference held in Winnipeg, Canada. She was joined on the panel by Jennifer Brown, executive director of the Flatiron District/23rd Street Partnership Business Improvement District, and Ron Nash of the City of Toronto’s Business Improvement Areas’ office. For a copy of their presentation, please email Kimberly at