Monday, March 2, 2015

Learning through nonprofit board committee work: One multilayered, embedded example

Formal learning experiences in nonprofit board development are great. The kinds of rich, immersive volunteer experiences like the one I described last week are fantastic. But the truth is that most of the learning that actually takes place within the governance experience is more subtle, layered, social, and occasionally invisible.

As I sat down to sketch out a more realistic example of "experiential board learning," a surprising thing unfolded. The evidence I generated from that example not only illustrates multiple informal/experiential learning tasks, but it also offers great representation of the triple-mode phenomenon (formal, informal, social) represented in the 70:20:10 framework that I described in an earlier post in this series. That was a pleasant, affirming surprise as I revisited another of the richest learning (and service) experiences of my nonprofit governance life.

The scenario

Like last week's vignette, this learning journey accompanied one of my least traditional invitations to board service. I already was a seasoned volunteer for the organization when the call came. Both parties knew my commitment to the mission and the nonprofit extending the invitation going in. What I did not expect was a part B to the request: would I also assume leadership of the board's grants committee?

Insanity, right? Of course it was. I said yes.

Because I spent my earlier volunteer experience working on one side of the mission, I saw this request as a chance to extend my learning to the other. How did the results of my previous efforts end up impacting lives and communities?

The biggest reason I said yes was knowing that our local nonprofit, and the larger international system of which it was a part, offered phenomenal support mechanisms. I would not be in this alone. They'd provide the essentials. The rest, well, I'd make up - and learn from - on the go.

What follows is the multilayered learning process that took me from "Am I nuts?!" to "We are doing good and even life-saving work, and I am helping to lead the way." I've organized the components into "most central" and "supportive elements" lists. In honor of the unexpected 70:20:10 finding, I'm also tagging each component according to the type of learning it represents.

Most central learning elements

The parent organization's multi-day grants process training. Formal learning experiences have their place in adult learning. This event confirmed that for me. Its role was quite specific and completely germane to my learning needs. It offered foundational information to someone new to the topic (virtually every participant in the room, including me). This event clarified what was expected of us. It introduced the supportive systems - resources and people - available to us as we returned home. It also laid the groundwork for developing a network of peers with whom we could consult in the future, launched during the open spaces that facilitated conversation and connection. (formal, social)

Our local executive director. This individual was a lifeline in my role as grants committee chairperson (and every other aspect of my board work). She shared her own experiences in the local grantmaking process. She understood the mechanics, the "politics," the people, and the outcomes; and she shared all of that openly with my fellow grants committee members and me. (social)

Grants committee members. As a new member, I relied heavily on my more experienced peers to understand the committee's responsibilities. The ED offered one important perspective. My fellow committee members provided another. Over time, I became their equal and a seasoned mentor to those who joined later. Learning came in the form of direct advice/information shared and in collaboration to create and implement the annual selection process. (informal, social)

Our grant review panel.  A select team of mission area experts, this group offered a level of informed critique that added integrity to the grantmaking process. While my fellow committee members and I developed a certain level of understanding and an eye for specific requirements, the grant review panel took the process to a deeper level. Members analyzed whether proposals made good methodological sense and whether the promised outcomes matched the practice described. Their specific expertise also gave them insights into details that my board committee peers and I often lacked the background to see. I learned from panel members, not only in our annual selection meeting, but in reading their individual reviews. (informal, social)

Grants process manual/portal. The parent nonprofit offered multiple performance support mechanisms. Two of the most important for me were the grants manual - originally obtained in hard copy format at the training - and an always evolving grants web portal. Both offered information whenever I needed it (in-the-moment learning, aka performance support). The manual's information was, obviously, somewhat static; but I usually found the answer to my question within its pages. The portal was more dynamic, with new resources being added almost daily. It eventually became my first-stop, go-to source for learning in my grants role. (informal)

Headquarters grants support staff. The parent organization also offered human support, in the form of staff assigned to the grants function. Usually, our ED initiated contact with these individuals on our behalf. But I also had the opportunity to make that contact and to interact once the conversation was open via email or phone. If we had a question we couldn't answer locally, one way or another, the parent nonprofit had it. (social)

Local needs assessment and other raw data sources. To understand how best to target grantmaking, our committee relied on two sources of data. One was a commissioned needs assessment, conducted using a range of quantitative and qualitative research methods. The other was a mix of secondary data sources provided by other organizations and government agencies tracking our mission area. We used both to identify the most critical need areas and to make informed decisions about annual grant criteria. (informal)

Grantee reports. Grant recipients submitted two reports each year, one at mid-year and one at the end of the grant cycle. Reading and responding to those reports allowed the committee to respond to evolving circumstances and to understand the real impacts and challenges experienced by grant recipients. We learned by simply reading and reflecting on those reports. Sometimes, they served as prompts for follow-up conversations and requests for more information. (informal)

Secondary learning sources

Grants listserv. I mentioned the opening of a supportive peer network in my description of the grants training. The primary vehicle facilitating that was the grants teams listserv that the parent organization maintained. Local grants committee members and EDs connected to each other, and to HQ grants experts, via this email resource. It gave us access to a broader peer network (and the experts), inviting us to ask for examples, advice, etc., from others engaged in the same local work.  (informal)

Learning from unexpected outcomes. I hesitate to call them "mistakes," but things didn't always work out as we anticipated in the grants process. Committee members and the ED (and, if necessary, the board) discussed those experiences, analyzed potential reasons for the unexpected outcomes, learned from those reflections, and applied what we learned to the next time we engaged in that activity. (informal)

Exploration of on- and offline mission resources. Sometimes, I just wanted to know more about our mission area. As a reader, I pretty much sought out any written source I could find to help me understand the many facets of our mission. A wealth of information existed at the time, primarily in print publications and web resources. I still keep up on the topic, though now mostly via trusted social media outlets. (informal)

Whew. When I decided to write about this particular board experience, I thought my emphasis would be on the doing. Instead, as I lined up the evidence, I realized that my learning was far more multifaceted and embedded - and rich - than I realized.

That is a good thing. It offers even more convincing evidence of the point I hoped to make: that learning exists everywhere in the nonprofit board experience. We may not realize it. We may not appreciate it as a learning opportunity in the moment (or at all). But it is there. We boost its developmental potential when we take a step back to see, appreciate and support it. We also must let go of the notion that board development only happens within formal training events.

Some questions for reflection:

  • What kinds of experiences are embedded within the work that our board members do? 
  • What kinds of learning emerges from those experiences, and how does that learning shape their performance?
  • What can we do to enhance the quality of learning that takes place within those experiences?
  • What's possible if we focus on doing that?

NOTE: As I advance the "Building Environments for Board Learning and Leadership" theme, I'm creating sets of resources for readers who are interested in exploring the topic on their own. One is a new Pinterest board, devoted to posts that address this theme. A set of bookmarks also will continue to grow with the series. At the moment, those resource lists are predictably small, but they will expand over time. For more general resources on both learning environments and performance support, visit my Pinterest board dedicated to those topics.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Governance toolbox: February potpourri

As I reviewed my latest bookmarks tagged for the toolbox, I couldn't help closing out the month with a potpourri of governance goodness. I trust that there will be something for everyone in what follows.

Reviewing the IRS Form 990: Five Tips and Best Practices -- Our friends at BDO offer a concise and valuable resource for board members and agency management. Attention to your organization's 990 submission is a critical bottom line component of fulfilling your fiduciary duties. It also opens the door to having at least annual conversations about larger accountability and policy responsibilities (Obviously, we should be tending to them year-round, but this is a minimum annual prompt.).

The Performance Imperative: A Framework for Social Sector Excellence - See more at:
The Performance Imperative: A Framework for Social Sector Excellence - See more at:
The Performance Imperative: A Framework for Social Sector Excellence - See more at:
The performance imperative: A framework for social sector excellence -- This little treasure from Beth Kanter appeared in my Facebook feed yesterday. The framework itself is a multilayered gift: it's a compelling reminder - and call to action - to remember what draws us to this work in the first place: impact.  I'm still exploring the resources linked within and from Beth's post, but I'll highlight the excellent video created to describe the initiative. If that doesn't capture your board's attention, you have a problem. I may return to this one later. Thanks, Beth, for sharing this important work with your readers and the sector as a whole. 

Why is succession planning taboo? -- The National Council of Nonprofits addresses a challenging topic that many boards ignore until they're caught in the crisis that can come with a CEO resignation or retirement. Author Jennifer Chandler not only offers us a focal point for beginning the conversation but also shares links and resources to support that effort.

Keep board members 100 percent accountable with an expectation form -- Different people respond to different motivators for board performance. A tool that regularly reminds them of what is expected, like the one Amy describes (click here to download her sample),  offers tremendous potential value for communicating accountability and reinforcing valued board member performance.

Five ways to embrace healthy tension -- Yes, tension can be healthy. Robbin Phillips' post remind the humans serving on our boards (and the leaders who guide them) to keep things in perspective and to remember the purpose they share. Simple, but sometimes sorely needed in our boardrooms.

Monday, February 23, 2015

The transformative power of experiential learning in board service: One example

How do we bring experiential learning to our board members in ways that give life to the mission and the organization?

I offered a few illustrations in a recent post. But given my belief that experience can be the greatest teachers in all types of settings (including/especially the nonprofit board), I thought I'd continue the conversation with a couple of personal examples. Today, I'll share my most powerful and transformative learning experience - one connected to my earliest board assignments. Next week, I'll offer a personal example that represents a more realistic kind of experiential learning opportunity for board members.

(A note before I start: Yes, I know there are slightly problematic components to this example. I offer it as my own story and a prompt for reflection on similar kinds of immersion opportunities that you have experienced or offered to your board members.)

My unorthodox entry into nonprofit governance included an equally unorthodox training requirement: participation in the organization's 16-hour victim advocate training.  Across a weekend, my fellow trainees and I explored the center's primary mission areas - domestic violence and sexual assault - in ways unparalleled in any other board induction experience. We also learned from experienced victim advocates and practiced role playing in a series of common crisis line scenarios that we might encounter.

I emerged on Sunday night exhausted, overwhelmed, deeply informed, and utterly transformed. The experience fulfilled my board training requirement and prepared me for my new volunteer work as a victim advocate (I couldn't not step up).

It also turned my entire world view upside down. I was forever changed.

Obviously, I learned nothing about nonprofit governance during this "board training." I did, however, come away far more aware of our mission areas, issues about which I'd had only passing acquaintance as a reporter for the local newspaper. Taking my initial crisis line shifts deepened my understanding of the very real challenges that victims face, victims who were largely invisible in our small community. I also learned firsthand the importance of having someone available to them 24/7, and the need for those picking up the phone when it rang to have a range of support mechanisms to ensure that they were prepared to respond appropriately. I knew what it was like to be the voice on that end of the phone, and the person meeting the caller in person.

I still remember my first experience with the latter: a late-night call about a disturbance at the local Perkins restaurant. When the agency director and I arrived (because no new advocate worked without staff support), we met a domestic violence victim who had dumped over a massive gumball machine so that the Perkins staff would call police. She didn't know she could simply call and ask for help.

When I moved to Laramie, I carried my commitment to victim advocacy with me. I also joined the agency's board and encountered the same training requirement (Board participation must have been a state mandate, though I'm foggy on that detail. It was not optional, though.). I found myself in a second extended learning experience, this time 40 hours long. While a lot was review, many new opportunities to practice skills and prepare for whatever the phone line might bring expanded my learning and my appreciation for the critical work of the agency's staff and volunteers.

I served as a victim advocate here as well, anticipating each pager beep with dread but ultimately knowing whoever was on the other end needed something in the moment that I could provide. I frequently felt regret that I seldom resolved their usually complicated situations, but I remembered early counsel by a staff member: I was "there" for them by simply answering the phone and listening.

I was there for one caller, "Susan." We talked about her latest beating at the hands of her husband. We talked about options. She told me she was ready to at least have one night of peace. We met at the safe house and made that happen. A few months later, what every victim advocate fears happened: "Susan" had been murdered by her husband.

I was forever changed by that experience, too.

What does any of this have to do with experiential board learning? Well, for starters, I was a board member of one of the organizations the entire time I served as a victim advocate. I brought what I learned and experienced, through that volunteer work, into every board meeting. I had an up-close-and-personal understanding of our impact (and the issues each mission addressed), thanks to those interactions with recipients of our services. They informed my thinking and my decision making, because they made the mission utterly real to me.

Let's acknowledge at least a couple of problematic aspects of the scenario just described. One, that particular kind of volunteerism is not realistic, or even desirable, for all board members. Two, I clearly wore two hats in that my work with each organization, roles that could at times conflict. I honestly can't recall situations where my volunteer mindset interfered with my governance responsibilities, but the potential certainly existed. There also was the tricky accountability mix between me as both volunteer and board member and the executive director. Again, while no conflicts arose in the moment, the possibility that a line was crossed at some point definitely existed.

I offer this as a vivid example of the kinds of experiences that we can both offer to our board members and the kinds of experienced volunteers already in your organizational family who may be great candidates for your next opening on your governing body.

If it is appropriate and individual board members are interested in other types of volunteerism within your organization, support that as a legitimate experiential learning opportunity. Have the "hats" conversation - when are you serving as a board member vs. when are you functioning as any other volunteer - to reduce the risk of overlap or mixed signals about accountability. Encourage sharing of those experiences with other board members, with the necessary caveats about anything that cannot be brought to the boardroom table (an obvious example from the case above: I could discuss my general advocacy experience but not individual clients).

Anything that puts board members into settings where they get to experience your work and your mission firsthand has the potential to enhance their value as informed and engaged board members. To the extent that you can offer - and even create - rich opportunities for immersion in what you do, you expand your board members' knowledge and commitment.

This also should open the door to considering the wealth of experiences available within individuals already committed to your organization during your board recruitment process. A room full of victim advocates would not have been useful to either organization mentioned above. But a retired advocate may be the perfect candidate for your next board opening. Your current volunteers may carry the mix of skills, connections and perspectives that you're seeking in your board recruitment process. Board service may be the right next step in their commitment to you.

Even though it is not a perfect example, and perhaps an extreme one, I offer this personal vignette as an invitation to reflect on these two questions:

  • What kinds of experiences you already offer your board members?
  • What other kinds of opportunities can you offer to expand their firsthand knowledge of your mission and your work?

I would dearly love to hear about your examples. So would future readers. Please consider sharing an illustration of how your organization provides quality experiential learning opportunities to your board members. I'd also appreciate hearing about any ideas that your reflection is generating for future board development.

Next week, I'll offer a second personal example of experiential board learning - one that may ring more familiar and be more realistic for your board members.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Governance toolbox: Building effective nonprofit board leadership

This week's topic is one that we'll undoubtedly revisit again, given its evergreen nature. But the first link that I'll be sharing hit a familiar nerve, and it couldn't resist.

10 negative results of believing people are incapable -- Dan Rockwell's latest post has nothing to do with nonprofits or nonprofit boards specifically, but it describes a phenomenon I see too often (from board leaders, CEOs, consultants, researchers, and even board members themselves). When we expect the worst out of others (e.g., when we view boards as obstacles to be overcome and board members as slackers to be managed), that's pretty much what we get. How we convey that, and how we interact with them in that mode, may contribute to them living out our perceived nightmare.  Dan's post offers characteristics the negative thinking that comes with this assumption. That's helpful, to the extent that it may prompt someone to recognize him/herself on the list and act to make necessary changes. However, even more valuable is the second half: 10 questions modeling the kind of attitude (and action, when you ask them) that leads from a different place and, most likely, yields very different responses from those led.

What a music conductor knows about leadership: Hugh Ballou -- How would nonprofit boards govern differently if they were led by someone who viewed his/her leadership responsibility as leading a symphony? Okay, that may feel like a stretch too far. But the parallels are quite clear. Board members enter as independent, skilled, passionate contributors to what we hope will be a larger and beautiful whole. Alone, their contributions are limited. Together, they can make magic - IF they have the right leadership to bring out the best in each of them, at the right time. The conductor, Ballou, offers a wonderful list of lessons we can learn from conductors. My personal favorite is "the leader defines how the result is expressed." What would change if your board leaders (or you) operated from that place? His lessons for meeting leadership also are noteworthy.

What good board members do to help organizations succeed -- Remember my friend, Richard Leblanc? This link takes you to a video of him discussing the title topic. His focus is on corporate governance, but the basic principles also apply or adapt easily to a nonprofit setting. For example, his commentary on how corporate boards are called to move away from "a compliance mentality," expanding focus to include attention to growth and innovation. All boards have fiduciary responsibilities to which they must attend. Too often, nonprofit boards hone in on those tasks because (a) they know someone is watching and (b) because, lacking a more holistic definition of governance, they believe that's what the job entails. Richard describes corporate governance efforts to move toward a competency matrix: the skills, behavior, etc., most needed in the boardroom. Note that he specifically points out the "softer skills" that we rarely see on board member job descriptions or recruitment checklists.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Better Together: New book explores healthy nonprofit board/CEO partnerships

When it's good, it's good. When it's great, it's great. When the dysfunction is flowing freely, watch out. 

Success in the nonprofit sector is built on relationships - human relationships - none of them more critical to effective governance (and mission impact) than the one between an organization's board chairperson and its CEO. When it's healthy and grounded in trust, transparency and humility, author John Fulwider says in his new eBook, the result is potentially transformational.

In Better Together: How Top Nonprofit CEOs and Board Chairs Get Happy, Fall in Love and Change the World, Fulwider does a fantastic job of describing what it takes to build a healthy nonprofit leadership partnership. He manages to create a vivid vision of that while acknowledging the very real challenges inherent in any human relationship.

There is so much that I appreciate about this new resource. Here are a few of the reasons why I'm recommending it as must-reading for every nonprofit CEO, board chair, and board chair in training.

The topic itself. In a very real sense, the health of the chair/CEO relationship shapes the destiny of the board as a whole. They play a key role in setting the agenda (literally and figuratively). They also ensure that the board has the tools and support needed to engage in the right work, at the right time, with the right results. Other resources explore the CEO experience. A few tippy toe into what it's like to serve as board chair. But the focus on the chair/CEO partnership is fairly unique.

So, too, is the emphasis on what ultimately boils down to basic human interaction, interpreted through the specific context of nonprofit leadership. It's so simple that it's often ignored by governance researchers. But it's also utterly foundational to the board's success and, in the end, the organization's community impact.

The research behind the book. In an environment that too often relies on quantitative approaches to describing and analyzing a very human experience, any qualitative approach offers a potentially fresh perspective. John's foundation is a series of interviews with CEO/board chair pairs, which offers an opportunity explore important questions about their common work in deeper ways. You simply can't survey this topic and do it justice. This method allows us to hear directly from those involved in the work, via the comments and feedback that illustrate the concepts Fulwider presents in the book's four chapters. The inclusion of case studies - seven sets of pair interviews - adds that extra layer of understanding without the researcher filter. We hear about the needs, motivations, victories and challenges directly from those who experience them.

The practitioner focus. Ultimately, this is a book designed to impact practice. The research method and the topic lend themselves well to visibility in scholarly journals. John may very well be working on that step. But this text is written for those in the roles now, and those who will some day find themselves leading from them. The factors that create healthy and transformative partnerships, and those that challenge that potential,  are real. Readers will see themselves in the descriptions and cases that John offers. They also will gain insights into how not only how to reduce the risks of dysfunction but to actively cultivate a mutually rewarding and productive leadership partnership. The author offers clear benchmarks for building the kind of relationship that serves everyone best.

The format. The eBook by itself gives the reader tools to launch and sustain a respectful and mutually productive partnership. But John takes the "make it actionable" step even further, by offering two additional resources. One is an audiobook (11 mp3 files) for those who prefer to listen and learn. The other tool is one about which I am most excited: a 94-page pdf workbook that outlines multiple exercises and reflection questions designed to start from wherever the partnership may be and move it to a healthier place. You don't have to wonder how to begin building the relationship you want, or how to make your relationship better, because Fulwider offers tailored paths to get you started. He even offers training outlines for consultants and facilitators interested in developing programs designed to foster healthier chair/CEO relationships.

John has generously offered discounts to readers of this blog for each of the three packages available. Use the links below to activate the discounts when you order.

Package 1 (eBook, available in a variety of reader formats):

Package 2 (eBook and audio book [mp3 files]):

Package 3 (eBook, audio book and companion workbook):

Monday, February 16, 2015

Change the Questions, Change the World: Reflecting on Creating the Future's Theory of Everything and nonprofit governance


If we ask the same old questions, we get the same old answers. 

Regular readers of this blog know that I've been pushing nonprofit boards to ask, and lead from, new questions for a long time now. We inch our way toward our missions,  a process that's often one step forward, two steps back. We drown in the here and now. We wallow in the past. 

And, for the most part, we get absolutely nowhere. We end our board terms feeling drained by the hard work and long hours that came with our commitment and service. Some of us leave feeling totally defeated, with little tangible evidence that we've made a shred of difference to our organizations and our communities. 

If we ask the same old questions, we get the same old answers.

I've long recognized that the same old ways of governing would inevitably lead to the same old dysfunctional results. The seed was already planted before I attended the Creating the Future (then Community-Driven Institute) consultants immersion course in January 2010. I'd already expanded my own governance repertoire, based on field experience, my second master's thesis, and doctoral dissertation research that completely changed my perspective of what high-impact governance looks like. But it wasn't until I traveled to Tucson five years ago that I fully grasped the awesome power of simply changing the questions we ask, especially in our boardrooms. That week shifted many things for me.

Recently, Creating the Future released a draft of its "Theory of Everything." This document not only outlines the philosophical underpinnings of everything that organization does but offers an earth-shaking alternative for seeing, living in, and impacting the world.

It is, without a doubt, the kind of cultural shift that the nonprofit sector, and nonprofit leaders, need. It challenges us in ways that some will find tough, because pushes us to commit to more than incremental steps toward progress. It demands big, bold commitments to big, bold visions of better futures for our communities.

It also demands very different questions and mindsets. It asks us to be open to changing our assumptions and beliefs about how the world works because, as author Hildy Gottlieb notes, they "create the results we achieve." (p. 4)

"Assumptions are the stories we tell ourselves that we believe simply to be 'the truth' - the questions that we are answering that we don't even realize have been asked." (p. 5)

Simply put, the biggest assumptions that hold nonprofit boards (and everyone else) back are those that limit what is possible and define for "eternity" what is impossible. Believing that we will never have enough resources to do what needs to be done, that we'll never see meaningful change before our board terms end, that we'll never have the staff we need to meet demand or the facilities we need - well, you get the idea. They are based in some version of today's reality, but they are not an unchangeable "truth" that forever determines our success or failure.

I read the sneak-peek draft wearing two hats: as a Creating the Future fellow and as someone who  works with boards who frequently feel trapped by their circumstances.  The latter brought out my inner skeptic. I know the challenge of seeing bleak financials every month, of keeping busy board members motivated and committed, of facing fundraising goals that terrify most in the room, of looking for (and mostly not finding) any little bit of proof that the mission needle has moved as a result of our efforts.

It's tough. Frankly, many boards are not yet at a place where they can embrace the transformation of thinking and practice called for in this document. But it is transformative. I am living proof of that, along with countless other individuals and organizations willing to change the thinking - and the questions  - that drive action.

"Fellow/consultant" me ended the reading with a sense of renewal and energy. It validated the work that I do here and the decision to focus on possibilities and positive stretches. My choice to push you all in ways that expand definitions of what is possible is one small contribution toward preparing you and your boards for the kind of cultural shift - and governance practice - is deeply rooted in the thinking reflected in this world-changing document.

I'll leave you with the encouragement to read, share, and respond to what Creating the Future lays out. I'll also close with an invitation to reflect on the three core assumptions behind their "Theory of Everything" and the power to change your community's destiny if you and your board have the courage to embrace them.

  1. "What do we want life to be like, and what will it take to create that?"
  2. "Who else cares about this? What could we accomplish together? And what will it take for that to happen?"
  3. "What resources do we have together that we don't have on our own? What do we have that we are willing to share? And what will it take for that to happen?"

"What do we want life to be like? And what will it take to create that?"

Friday, February 13, 2015

Governance toolbox: Supporting board chairs

In honor of John Fulwilder's impending book launch on the topic - and the review I'm preparing on that excellent new resource - this week's nonprofit governance toolbox selections focus on the critical leadership responsibilities of board chairpersons.

How to get support and strategic input from your board chair -- I'll open with this post by John. One of the reasons, obviously, is that the insights he provides will be of value to nonprofit CEOs who want to make the most of their relationship with their board chairs. It also offers a nice sneak peek into what readers of his new book will discover as they move from page to page. Oh, and I can't resist a few great questions - like the sets that he shares at the end of the post.

The five star board chair checklist -- Speaking of great questions... Joan Garry's checklist comes in the form of questions that every prospective board leader should ask before saying yes. The complete set of questions definitely prompt careful reflection. But I'm especially glad to see questions that invite assessment of one's capacity to deal with the tricky human challenges that come with the job. Leading a board requires far more than sticking to a meeting agenda. Joan's questions remind us of that.

How to build a better nonprofit board: It's about the board chair -- Alice Korngold does a marvelous job of capturing six key board chair responsibilities that impact board effectiveness. While she's right on the mark with all six, I'm particularly smitten with number three (click on the link to find out what number three covers!). I don't know about your experience, but too many boards with which I've been affiliated still treat that function as an afterthought.

Top ten qualities of exceptional leaders -- Obviously, this one's not nonprofit board-specific. It's also definitely not a "roles and responsibilities" kind of list. But Dan Rockwell's "qualities" strike me as an excellent opportunity for nonprofit board leaders - or any leader - to stop and reflect on their internal capacities needed to truly bring out the best in themselves and others. That reflection has the potential to not only shape their potential impact in this volunteer role but in every other area of a board leader's life.