Boards ready to serve

On any pre-pandemic day, there were board members serving any nonprofit that might benefit from a clearer sense of their role. Two years of Zoom meetings challenged the best run organizations, and now a constant refrain among the nonprofits I work with is the need for effective, practice-changing board education.

The research backs up the need. In a recent BoardSource webinar, the speakers cited conclusions from a recent survey:

  • Board members are disconnected from the communities and people they serve.
  • They are ill-informed about the ecosystems in which they operate.
  • Boards lack in racial and ethnic diversity.
  • Boards are pre-occupied with fundraising above all else.

The exciting news is that associations and networks are addressing the need for education in systemic ways. Through our new Nonprofit Learning Center, we have been honored to work with the League of Women Voters of Washington as they invested in our Nonprofit Board Certificate Course to make it available to every league in the state. Our statewide Leagues are doing heroic work on the front lines of our democracy. Their effectiveness will be amplified through a league-wide focus on board leadership.

We are similarly partnering with two other associations, providing licenses to the on-demand board course to make learning free for all of their members. From a social change point of view, powerful things can happen when cohorts of leaders within a movement or region have a common set of information on which to build their practice. Performance-based education means that they complete any training with concrete action steps that can be sustained over time.

Board education is most effective right now when it intentionally addresses two kinds of learners: those serving for the first time and veteran board members who think they know the job and yet are leading when circumstances have changed. (I’m drawing from the 5 Moments of Need by Bob Mosher and Conrad Gottfredson, also explained here.) Board service heading into 2023 is not even the same as board service 2019! We’ve tossed “best practice” out the window because it reflects none of the nuance that comes from authentic leadership based within communities, exercised by diverse people, informed by societal shifts, and occupied with the real task of governance.

To create the space to explore these ideas, we’ve been leading a 90-minute abridged version of the the Nonprofit Board Certificate Course that focuses on the four conversations every board should be having as we go into 2023:

Purpose: What role does our organization play within our community and the larger ecosystem? (What does leadership look like if we put purpose first?)
People: Who can ensure that we fulfill that role and govern our organization with accountability to the people we serve?
Culture: How do our board members work together and with others so everyone is valued and feels a sense of belonging?
Focus: What are the conversations of consequence that our board needs to focus on?

Think of a board that you know: which of these questions should that board focus on?

More on boards

Sarah Brooks and I focused on boards for three Nonprofit Radio Show episodes this fall. Take a listen, and remember to subscribe!

Well-functioning boards: Ideas for board members

Well-functioning boards: Ideas for staff members

My boards members won’t…

Upcoming board-related events

January 4: Build a Powerhouse Board (with Iowa Nonprofit Alliance 🎉)

Starting January 10: Powerhouse Boards (for Washington Food Coalition members)

Starting January 11: Powerhouse Boards with the North Carolina Center for Nonprofits (open reg)

January 12: Nonprofit Boards with Native Action Network (for Native-led nonprofits)

Anytime board learning: Nonprofit Board Certificate Course (in English or Spanish)

Nonprofit Board Certificate Workbook & Checklists (28 pages)

Published by Nancy

I work at the intersection of learning, nonprofits, and leadership. I am a teacher, instructional designer, and nonprofit person who has worn every hat possible. I regular write, speak, and consult on learning strategy, design, and leadership.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: