Thursday, June 28, 2007

Board Priorities: Public Awareness

(Part 3 of 3)

Nonprofit Congress delegates identified one final sector-level priority, “public awareness and support of the sector,” which they defined as “increas(ing) public understanding and support(ing) support so that nonprofits can continue to do their best work” (Source: Nonprofit Congress).

I’m a PR professional by training and trade, so seeing the board’s role in reaching out and raising a nonprofit’s visibility has always made sense to me. Each board member brings to the table personal and professional relationships that may be drawn upon to support the nonprofit.

Some of those connections will be clear: they involve people or groups that have a vested interest in our nonprofit’s mission. Others may be more of a stretch to find that link. Whatever the scenario, the board member can be an effective, credible voice for our organization.

Does your board recognize its members’ potential (and responsibility) as ambassadors for your nonprofit? Are they enthusiastic and willing to talk broadly about your work and your needs? Are they confident in their ability to speak knowledgeably about you? Are they not only thinking about opportunities to speak up on your behalf and, more important, are they taking them? Is this a priority for them? How can we make it a priority?

Please share your successes – and challenges – engaging board members in raising public awareness of your work by commenting on this entry.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Board Priorities: Advocacy

(Part 2 of 3)

The second sector priority identified by delegates to the first Nonprofit Congress is “advocacy and grassroots community activities,” defined as “advocat(ing) for the sector at large and engag(ing) our constituents to solve problems at the grassroots level” (source: Nonprofit Congress).

Advocacy may not pop immediately into the typical board member’s mind when asked about the responsibilities that come with the job. But I believe it is one of the areas where they can not only contribute but make a significant impact for the organization.

If we’ve done our recruitment job right, our board member peers are connected community leaders who understand and support that mission in deep ways. Besides the staff, who is better equipped to make your case with policymakers, opinion leaders?

National Congress delegates generated a list of implications for the sector if it met its advocacy goals. As I review that list again today and apply it to the organization, I see several items where board contributions in this area can truly make a difference. Among those impacts:

• Having a larger impact and a force of change on public policy
• Having a presence at the table when decisions are being made
• Adopting different ways of thinking
• Improving organizational visibility
• Increasing visibility for social change

Has your board acknowledged its advocacy role? Has it seriously discussed the specific ways in which it can fulfill those responsibilities and envisioned how that work will advance your organization’s mission? Does it understand the places where members can impact policy and effect social change?

Next time, I’ll discuss the third sector priority and consider how individual nonprofit boards can address it in their organizations.

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.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Sector Priorities-Board Roles

Our individual nonprofits act on mission-based priorities every day. Do similar priorities exist for the sector itself and, if so, what might they be?

No official “nonprofit priorities” list governing the sector exists. However, a 2006 gathering of practitioners, the Nonprofit Congress, yielded both rich conversations about their work and consensus about three broad priorities for the health of the sector.

The delegate-identified focus areas were:

• Nonprofit organizational effectiveness
• Advocacy and grassroots community activities
• Public awareness and support of the sector

They also identified an overarching goal within each priority, representing greatest potential for advancing the sector.

I’ve been pondering those priorities since the Nonprofit Congress announced them in its post-meeting report. Since board work has become the lens through which I view most topics lately, that focus has turned to identifying the governing body’s role in achieving them. In coming entries, I’ll share some of my ideas about board leadership for each priority area.

In the meantime, I’ll offer links to portions of the Nonprofit Congress website. For the Congress home page, click here. For the list of priorities and a brief description of each, click here. To access a copy of the meeting highlights, including notes from the conversations leading to the priority list, click here.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Committee Chair-No Solo Act

If you’ve served on a nonprofit board for any period of time, you’ve undoubtedly had opportunities to lead board and/or organizational committees.

Charity Channel’s online Nonprofit Boards and Governance Review published an interesting article last week (“Serving as a Committee Chair is Not a Solo Act”) that I thought I’d share with you, by Paulette Vinette. As I look to my current committee leadership assignments, Vinette’s brief piece offered a timely reminder of the importance of the responsibility.

The article’s title should make Vinette’s premise self-evident: committee leadership requires a focus on participation: the right individuals, drawn together for the right reasons, working toward the right goals. Committee leaders must think broadly about the voices and talents that they bring to the table, about how they will engage those individuals – and others – to achieve goals that advance the organization’s mission.

I invite you to read Vinette’s piece (click on the article title in the first paragraph to access it) and offer your thoughts and experiences. How do you envision your role as committee chairperson? What are some of the greatest rewards of the work? The challenges? How do you create a rich working environment in the committees you lead?

Friday, June 1, 2007

Boomers: An Undertapped Resource?

This week, the topic of recruiting Baby Boomer volunteers came up in a presentation I delivered on the sector. The context: thinking broadly about recruiting new volunteers from new sources.

Boomer volunteerism isn’t new. But there may be expanding opportunities to engage Boomers as they begin to redefine retirement and the years leading up to it.

Emerging research and anecdotal evidence suggest that my generation will take a very different approach to this next life phase. First, many of us will continue working, at least part time. Financial necessity won’t be our only motivation in this shift. We may see this as our opportunity to act on our passions and ideals without worrying about contributing to pensions and paying mortgages.

This is good news for the nonprofits. While many of the Boomers who have driven the sector look forward to their own life transitions away from the stress of years doing all-consuming work, others will look to the nonprofit in our search for meaning (and a bit of income) in our later years.

We’ll also turn to volunteerism in new ways, with new commitment. As the constraints of daily life that dominated much of our adult lives begin to loosen, those of us who have given our time may find new energy to share. Other Boomers who do not share that volunteerism history may now be ready to consider taking that step. It is an opportunity that nonprofits should be preparing to address, in creative ways that acknowledge the interests and motivations of this generation.

A good starting point for understanding the potential and the challenges of engaging Boomers in new ways, visit this links page.