Friday, June 15, 2007

Board Priorities: Effectiveness

Last time, I shared information and links related to the proposed sector-level priorities defined by delegates attending the 2006 Nonprofit Congress. Today, I’d like to offer some thoughts about the board’s role in addressing the first of those priorities: nonprofit organizational effectiveness.

Congress delegates identified two major areas of concern under the effectiveness banner:
  • Accountability and best practices, described as “accountable, responsive, and operating efficiently and is accountable to its clients and donors”
  • Leadership, described at the sector level as “effective and strong leadership with a focus on mission” (Source: Nonprofit Congress)
As I think about the ways in which these apply to board work, I see some pretty clear connections. In fact, I’d say the two elements are the essence of nonprofit governance as we currently define it.

If you’re on a board, you know the accountability responsibilities well. A longtime bottom line of the job is careful stewardship of all of a nonprofit’s resources: financial, human, etc. Funders, clients policymakers and the public expect us to behave in ethical ways, monitor use of resources closely, and treat employees and volunteers fairly. That spotlight has become blinding, as scrutiny from many sources (rightly so) continues to increase pressure on boards to attend to these concerns. The calls for attention to accountability issue are strong, occasionally overpowering.

Leadership is equally critical to governance. As a board, we are charged with defining and advancing the mission of our organization. We should be continually asking ourselves: How does the decision we’re about to make move us closer to achieving our mission? Is there any chance that it will divert us from our highest priorities? Will our community, however we define it, be better off because we’ve taken this step?

Both are equally critical to the success and vitality. Both are places where governing boards have not only ultimate responsibility but true contributions to make.

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