Sunday, February 7, 2010

Taking time for mission

My Facebook status this morning reads, "Debra Baker Beck is fine-tuning plans for a mission-focused day with her favorite board in the world this week. Great things guaranteed!"

I always leap at the chance to work with this particular board. There are myriad reasons, but the major motivators are these:
  • It understands the need to step back periodically, away from the routine of governance, to focus on the future. This is an annual event, an essential part of board life.
  • Board members are masters of governance. The 'routine' from which they are stepping away is focused where boards should be focused: the agency's future, the support it needs to advance its mission, and its impact on the community. (I know. I spent several months observing meetings and interviewing members during my dissertation research.)
  • Because they are clear about the board's ultimate role, when they do step away from the regular work, they have a good sense of how they want to spend special times like this retreat. Mission, mission, mission: that was the theme tying together all of the issues they want to cover this week.
My task is to help them immerse in the mission, both the ways in which they can move ever closer to fulfilling it and in recognizing the potential challenges they may encounter.

I loved hearing that at least one board member is concerned about the potential for mission creep. Trust me. A board that is aware of the challenge of spreading its organizational resources too thin is a rare and wonderful thing. It's also in a position to ensure that mission creep will not be an issue in the future.

I've led and participated in scores of board retreats, enough to know that they are (a) not always welcomed with enthusiasm, (b) not always set up for effective use of board member time, and (c) frequently not used to guide future action. Nothing changes: the organization and the community it serves aren't better off because they met.

This board continues to exemplify how governance should work. It recognizes the importance of retreat time (and makes a point to schedule it); it enters the experience with a clear, mission-driven purpose of what they want to accomplish; and it will use the results drive its work for the next year. (I can virtually guarantee that. Our community has tangible evidence of action taken following one of their recent retreats.)

Does your board set aside time regularly to explore? To think about the future? To decide how to focus your leadership and energy for the future? If the answers are yes, how is your nonprofit better off? How is your community better off?

If the answers are no, what are the primary obstacles? What would it take to provide quality time to focus on your leadership role, on the organization's future, and on impacting your community? Where can you find that time? Will you make the time?

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