A recent edition of Charity Channel’s Nonprofit Boards and Governance Review hit home for me, because I seem to be living many of the key concepts the author described.
In “Board Structure: Current Trends and Options,” Alice Collier Cochran described some of the ways in which the shape and function of nonprofit governing bodies are changing.
As I read through each of the trends she listed, I reflected on how they were represented in my experiences serving on the board of a new nonprofit here in Laramie. In a very real way, we exemplify the emerging board that Cochran describes. For example:
We are much smaller than many of the boards of my past, with only seven members on our current membership list. That’s both a good thing and a not-so-good thing. As we’re reminded every day, there’s a lot of work involved in creating an organization from the ground up. It’s exciting work, to be sure. But it also means that everyone must be actively involved in the process and committed to the work, and that we must be especially attentive to some of the issues that appear elsewhere on Cochran’s list (e.g., accountability, member engagement, finance, focus on policy and strategy).
One of the moves of which I am most proud is our board’s decision to establish a leadership team, also part of Cochran’s lists of emerging trends. This group is charged with helping us focus on the big picture and use our limited meeting time effectively. We want to avoid becoming a surrogate board, particularly since the board itself is so small. But so far, I believe the leadership team is succeeding at keeping our eyes on the future and the important work we want to do, while also focusing on the immediate organizational tasks at hand.
I have high aspirations for this board, the organization it serves and the mission toward which we all work. One of my ‘to dos’ for the board -- board development – makes Cochran’s list. Our challenge to fully realizing this is a common one for boards: too little time to cover too many responsibilities. But ultimately, I believe that board development is an investment in the future, giving us strength to serve as effectively as we can. Finding creative ways to engage our individual and collective brains and linking what we learn to our work for the organization is the important challenge.
I’d encourage you to read Cochran’s article, found by clicking on the link above, and reflecting on how your own board might be fit the structural trends she identifies.