Five Good Ideas

Five Good Ideas about successful board-executive director relationships

Published on 21/05/2014

Relationships between charitable sector leaders and their Boards require a significant investment of time, energy, and resources from all parties. Investing in Board-Executive Director relationships is a not a choice. Investing in successful Board-Executive Director relationships is one. Tim Penner and Medhat Mahdy believe that choosing to invest in successful relationships is an essential catalyst toward organizational performance and community impact. Using the benefits of trusting relationships as their departure point, Tim and Medhat drew on their experiences as Chair of the Board and President and CEO of the YMCA of Greater Toronto, respectively, to lead this session on how to align charities around choosing, and building, successful Board-Executive Director relationships.

Five Good Ideas

  1. Start with a shared vision and values.
  2. Define the diversity and skills matrix needed to help you achieve your vision, and recruit Board members around it.
  3. Invest the time, and open yourself up to the vulnerability, needed to build trusting relationships.
  4. Play your positions. Like in any sport, volunteer staff partnerships work best when team members complement, rather than duplicate, each other.
  5. Measurement matters. Put in place a measurement system that will allow the Board to focus on strategic oversight over time (the big picture, long view) and not get lost in the weeds.

Example of a board evaluation template (MS Word document)

Five Good Resources

  1. Simon Sinek: How Great Leaders Inspire Action
  2. 20 Questions Directors of Not-For-Profit Organizations Should Ask about Board Recruitment, Development and Assessment by Dr. Richard Leblanc and Hugh Lindsay, Chartered Accountants of Canada
  3. Brené Brown: The Power of Vulnerability
  4. Guide to Good Governance by the Ontario Hospital Association
  5. Good to Great in the Social Sector by Jim Collins

Medhat Mahdy and Tim Penner

President and CEO, YMCA of Greater Toronto, and former Chair of the Board, YMCA of Greater Toronto

Medhat Mahdy is the President and CEO of the YMCA of Greater Toronto and President of YMCA Ontario. As part of its vision of making our communities home to the healthiest children, teens and young adults, the Y is building ten new YMCA Centres of Community in ten years. The Y is deeply committed to keeping its doors wide open to people going through difficult transitions, and Medhat brings a deep understanding of the social determinants of health and a conviction that we owe every one of our kids the opportunity to grow stronger every day in spirit, mind and body. Y not? Medhat has an extensive background in nonprofit leadership and strategy — as well as a 37-year relationship with the Y, as a member, volunteer and leader. He’s served in a variety of leadership capacities both at the YMCA of Greater Toronto and at YMCA Canada, and has been the recipient of a number of strategic and voluntary sector designations from York, McGill, University of Toronto, Harvard and Queen’s. Medhat has lived in Cairo, Pittsburgh, Alexandria, Karslruhe (Germany) and now lives in Toronto with his wife Ann and their three children. He’s a tennis and classical music fan.


Tim Penner retired as President of Procter & Gamble Canada in September 2011 after 33 years with the company. After graduating from Wilfrid Laurier University, Tim joined P&G and worked in various Marketing roles in Canada, advancing to the position of General Manager of Health Care products. Tim and his family then moved internationally twice with P&G, to the UK and Ireland, and the USA. He returned to Toronto as President of P&G Canada in 1999 and held that role for 12 years before retiring. Tim is also the former Chair of the YMCA of Greater Toronto. He has served for ten years on the Ontario Task Force on Competitiveness, Productivity and Economic Progress. He serves as a Trustee of Sick Kids Hospital. He is on the Board of Intact Insurance, the largest property and casualty insurance company in Canada. He is also on the Board of MaRS Innovation, which has the mandate to commercialize the discoveries at 16 member hospitals and universities. In the past, Tim was a member of the Toronto United Way Campaign Cabinet for eight years and Chaired the Toronto Campaign in 2007. He served as Chair of the Food and Consumer Products Association; as Chair of GS-1; as a Board Director for the Youth Challenge Fund; and as a Director of the Conference Board of Canada. He has been on the Dean’s Advisory Council at both Wilfrid Laurier University and the Schulich School of Business at York. He also served as the Honorary Chair of Career Bridge, a program that provides internship positions for skilled newcomers to Canada. Tim has been married to his wife Pat for 32 years. They have three children.