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Eyes on the Edge BLOG

Our BLOG is designed to help nonprofit leaders – board and management – keep their eyes on the edge of developments and emerging trends related to the nonprofit sector. In it we share information and insights about the nonprofit sector in Ontario and beyond and pose questions to help leaders think strategically about the implications.

Check it out and let us know what you think!

Articles and Guides
We have published several articles outlining our perspectives on strategic planning, governance and other topics. The following articles are available for download in PDF format:

Co-design and Co-production - Innovation in Service Design and Delivery PDF
This article illustrates the potential of working with service users and members of their networks to design and/or deliver programs and services. The article highlights local and international co-design and co-production initiatives that have delivered innovative solutions, better access to services, better results and more resilient communities. We think these approaches are worth considering for any nonprofit organization seeking to better engage and expand the capacity of its community and improve its overall impact. 

Governing Beyond the Boardroom - Reigniting the Ambassadorial Role PDF
This article outlines the potential impact that can be achieved by board members who act as ambassadors and govern beyond the boardroom. We think it’s an opportune time for nonprofit boards and organizations to reignite, promote and support this critical governance role. Learn more…

Change through Learning and Learning through Change at Kinark PDF
This article outlines key design elements from a year-long Management Development Program we developed and delivered for Kinark Child and Family Services. It describes some of the results they achieved and learning strategies that any organization can use to foster a culture of learning.

Ready, Set, Plan... Designing a Strategic Planning Process that Fits PDF
This article provides an overview of three different strategic planning processes we have undertaken with clients. It outlines a variety of things organizations should consider to ensure the design of an effective planning process.

Talking Social Enterprise PDF
This article provides an introduction to different forms of social enterprise by profiling a variety of Canadian examples. It identifies key success factors and risks.

Promising Practices for the Board PDF
This document contains a variety of promising practices implemented by and recommended to boards we have worked with. These simple strategies can dramatically improve a board’s effectiveness.

A Participatory Action Research: A guide for community-based organizations PDF
Developed for Participation House, London in collaboration with their Quality Outcomes for People Committee, 2003

Does the Carver Policy Model Really Work? PDF
Front & Centre, Canadian Centre for Philanthropy, May 1998

Association Governance: A Study in Paradoxes PDF
Association, Vol.15 No.4, June-July 1998

Other Publications

If you would like additional information or a copy of any of the publications listed below, please contact Ruth directly.

Good Remedy: Not for Every Ill
Combination book review and case study that illustrates a new framework for non-profit governance based on the book "Goveranance as Leadership: Reframing the Work of Nonprofit Boards". Co-authored with Yves Savoie. The Philanthropist, Volume 21 and Issue No. 3, 2008 (p. 247-255: download from The Philanthropist online)

Case Study: Community Takes on Hospital
Case prepared by Sandi Trillo under the supervision of Ruth Armstrong. © Nonprofit Management & Leadership Program, The Schulich School of Business, York University, 2008

Nonprofit Governance Models: Problems and Prospects
Co-authored with Pat Bradshaw and Bryan Hayday. The Innovation Journal: The Public Sector Innovation Journal, Volume 12 (3), 2007  

A Culture of Accountability
Co-authored with Linda Mollenhauer of Mollenhaer & Associates. This report summarizes the findings of the Accountability Project; research was completed in 2006. It offers a new lens for looking at accountability by describing the characteristics that distinguish highly accountable not-for-profit organizations.

Access and Care: Towards a National Oral Health Strategy
Journal of the Canadian Dental Association—Vol. 71, No. 1—January 2005

Nonprofit Governance: The Next Generation - Evolution of Structure and Function
Prepared for and published by Federated Press, 1998

Hybrids are Heartier: Exploring Four Models of Board Governance
Working paper, 1995

Remembering the Future: Creating Change-ability at Linda Lundström Ltd.
Co-authored with Brenda Zimmerman, York University, Toronto 1994

A Rose By Any Other Name: Using Board Development to Achieve Board Reform
The Philanthropist, Vol XI #1, Spring 1992

Making a Difference: A Guide to Effective VON Board Membership
Co-authored with Jacquelyn Scott, Toronto 1991

Conference Presentations
Ruth is often invited to share her expertise at public and in-house conferences. A dynamic speaker, she excells in both topical presentations, keynote speeches and interactive workshops. Some of her recent conference topics include:

On Governance
Shared and Separated Leadership between the Board and ED – Presentation on conditions for a productive relationship and practical strategies for navigating the boundary. Iler Campbell's Tools Conference 2011

Governance 5x5 – Presentation on a new governance model at Strengthening Our Connections for Action, Ontario Nonprofit Network's Conference 2011

Governance and Leadership: A Sign of the Times - Future Focus Conference, Credit Union Central of Canada 2009

Governance as Leadership
– Maytree Foundation Leadership Conference 2006

Governance – The Ideal and the Real – Ketchum Canada’s National Conference 2005

Good Boards, Better Governance
and Planning for Change, What Else is New? – Building Capacity: A Workshop for Seniors Organizations 2006; sponsored by the Ontario Seniors’ Secretariat

On Accountability
In 2004 Ruth Armstrong and Linda Mollenhauer initiated a research project to explore the evolving definition of accountability and its implications for the nonprofit world. The project was sponsored by Children's Mental Health Ontario and funded by the Ontario Trillium Foundation. A process to help organizations reflect on and improve their accountability was developed as part of the project. Please contact Ruth Armstrong directly to learn more about the research and process.

Accountability in Governance, A Wide Angle Lens – McMaster World Congress 2006

Creating a Culture of Accountability – co-presented with Linda Mollenhauer of Mollenhauer & Associates at:

Other Topics
Leadership in the non-profit sector: A challenging opportunity – Presentation at Women in Leadership: Inspire to Aspire Conference - Transforming Challenges into Opportunities 2010

Adapting to Changing Environments: Developing change-ready, adaptable people and organizations –
Keynote speech at Thriving and Surviving in Uncertain Times: CAPC Conference 2008

The Power of Connecting, Planning and Changing – Building Capacity: A Workshop for Seniors Organizations 2007; sponsored by the Ontario Seniors’ Secretariat

Institute on Governance – Explores, shares and promotes the concept of good governance in Canada

BoardMatch Fundamentals – Helps place knowledgeable and enthusiastic volunteers on the boards of charitable organizations

BoardSource – Practical information, tools and best practices, training, and leadership development for board members of nonprofit organizations

CompassPoint's Board Café –Eelectronic newsletter for nonprofit board members to help them give and get the most out of board service

Corporate and Insolvency Law Policy – Primer for directors of nonprofit corporations (includes rights, duties and practices)

Community Intelligence
– Resources on developing communities of practice within organizations

The Drucker Institute - Formerly the Peter F. Drucker Foundation for Nonprofit Management, the institute offers resources and educational opportunities aimed at leaders in the social sector.

Henry Mintzberg Cleghorn Professor of Management Studies at McGill University; writes and researches management, leadership, strategy and forms of organization. Interesting articles and books.

The Idealist – Resources and information for and about nonprofits.

Ontario Nonprofit Network (ONN) – The network monitors what is happening in Ontario's nonprofit sector, and strives to enhance communications within the sector, and build bridges between the sector and government, business and other stakeholders.

Pillars of Accountability - Introduces six Pillars of Accountability: Ethical Fundraising, Strategic Risk Management, Cultural Competence, Fiscal Integrity, Dynamic Programming and Leadership Sustainability. Free online risk management tutorial from the Nonprofit Risk Management Center

The Plexus Institute – Complexity Science learning community - articles and case studies exploring the application of complexity principles in organizations

York University's Schulich Nonprofit Management and Leadership Program – Building the capacity for effective management and leadership in the Canadian nonprofit sector through research and education. Ruth Armstrong taught in the program from 1990-2014.


Recommended Reading

The books below are those that we reach for again and again, so we recommend them to you. Click on the book images to see editorial and reader reviews online.

Leading Public Sector Innovation - Bason

In this book Christian Bason, the Director of Innovation at Denmark’s MindLab, underscores the need for innovation in the public sector. The book provides profiles of innovative approaches being implemented globally. It outlines concrete strategies and tools that leaders and employees can use to innovate and engage the populations they serve in co-designing better public services and creative solutions to today’s complex social challenges.

Sandi Trillo attended his June 2011 presentation at MaRS in Toronto – his 1.5 hour presentation is highly recommended and can be viewed here: http://sigeneration.ca/blog/?p=128

Made to Stick - Heath Brothers

In ‘Made to Stick – Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die’ the Heath brothers take many of Malcolm Gladwell’s ideas from ‘The Tipping Point’ to the next level by applying them to the realm of communications. The book is an entertaining read and contains a variety of practical strategies for making your communications more effective: i.e. ‘sticky’ or memorable. They articulate six principles of sticky messages: Simplicity, Unexpected, Concrete, Credible, Emotional, Stories. These principles can be applied in a variety of organizational communications: vision and mission statements, presentations, media releases, etc.

Forces for Good - Crutchfield and MacLeodIn 'Forces for Good' Authors Crutchfield and MacLeod Grant have identified 6 practices high impact non-profit organizations use to achieve extraordinary results. 12 American organizations identified as having high impact are profiled by the authors, all are national and/or international in scope. It is interesting to note that while the organizations were considered to be highly effective by peer leaders in the nonprofit field, they were not always seen as such when assessed according to more traditional grantmakers' metrics.

Governance as Leadership - Chait, Ryan and TaylorIn 'Governance as Leadership' Chait, Ryan and Taylor continue to push our thinking about non-profit boards. In Governance as Leadership they suggest that the board's role needs to be reframed to promote higher engagement and to revitalize the board's leadership role. Please see our Q&A on An Evolution in Governance for more on this topic.



Getting to Maybe - Westley, Zimmerman and PattonIn 'Getting to Maybe' Westley, Zimmerman and Patton have come together to explore how social change happens from the seedling of an idea. The range of examples illustrated are fascinating and inspiring - they profile ordinary people moved to do extraordinary things as well as more recognizable individuals like Bob Geldof and Mohammed Yunus (Grameen Bank). The authors use a complexity lens in describing how these individuals made change. Practical strategies, including mindsets and skills help in understanding the possibilities. A number of the examples are Canadian.


Don Tapscott and Anthony Williams remind us that the masses have access to information and many are willing to share their knowledge and innovations. This book illustrates a future where the ideas and energy of customers, suppliers and organizations are leveraged through mass collaboration. In an environment where it is not always possible to attract and retain the brightest and the best people, organizations who are willing to make their organizational boundaries more porous can gain access to a global pool of talents and ideas by using cyber networks to mobilize people in collaborative problem solving and innovation.


Henry Mintzberg once again challenges the way we think about a subject. In ‘Managing’, Mintzberg draws on his observations of 29 managers in a variety of sectors to make the point that managing is not a science or a profession – but a “practice”. This book offers a vision of what is truly involved in effective management – what managers do, how they do it and how they can do it better.



Good to Great in the Social Sector

Jim Collins, author of the best-selling business book ‘Good to Great’, acknowledges that the primary path to greatness in the social sectors is NOT to become “more like a business”. Despite this, many social sector leaders recognize the principles of ‘greatness’ he defined in ‘Good to Great’ are applicable to the social sectors. In this monograph Collins interprets how the principles of ‘greatness’ might be applied in the social sectors in the absence of traditional business metrics; where there is a more diffuse power structure; where there are constraints in getting the right people on the bus; where there is no profit motive behind the economic engine; and differences in how brands are built.

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