With growing expectations of accountability, this is now one of the most important – and frequently asked – questions facing Board members of major international NGOs.

In response, leading Boards have been experimenting with a range of new approaches, but it is proving a challenging goal to achieve in ways that are practical and useful. Unlike issues of good governance, fundraising, finance, and risk management, there are no established models of good practice for Boards to follow.

To contribute to this debate, we brought together senior Board members and CEOs from a group of five major international NGOs, to explore how they are responding to these changing expectations, and to identify examples of good practice. We have just published the results of this review, as a concise practical guide for Board members.

Six key questions emerged for Boards seeking to align with emerging good practice:

  1. Does our Board have an appropriate mix of people with the knowledge, experience and networks to assess programme quality?
  2. Does our Board play an active role in shaping programme strategy and priorities, and monitoring alignment with them?
  3. Does our Board agree the approach to effective monitoring of programme quality and outcomes, and periodically review progress and learning?
  4. Does our Board spend an appropriate proportion of its time debating key issues and challenges in strengthening programme effectiveness?
  5. Does our Board periodically seek out and review direct feedback from key stakeholder groups on the effectiveness of our programmes and their experience of working with us?
  6. Does our Board have a clear policy on the key stakeholder groups to whom we accountable for programme effectiveness, and monitor how well we fulfill this accountability to each group?


The most appropriate response to these questions will depend on the range and diversity of the work of the NGO, and the business model adopted, and will vary with international NGO Board norms in different cultural contexts. The report explores these issues, and incorporates a range of good practice examples for different contexts, including both federations and individual agencies.

To review the report, click on this link

How well does this work in your context? We’d welcome your feedback, ideas, and challenges, as we work towards a broad consensus on good practice in this key area of Board responsibilities.

Ken Caldwell, Baobab

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