Today, I share a few of my favorite nonprofit books. Not every title directly addresses board roles, but they do inform some aspect of governance and would be an asset to any nonprofit organizational or board member library.
I was pleasantly surprised by this new (2010) title by BoardSource. It does a good job of providing the reader something more than a passing-glance view of a wide range of board member responsibilities. Readers won’t have everything they need to understand those roles, but new board members will have a good starting point for grasping what they have signed on to provide. My dilemma in recommending (and using) it is a practical one. It’s a large book, too large to be a realistic part of an orientation process. It’s also expensive; putting one into the hands of every board member is not an option for most nonprofits. One potential solution: housing one in your organization’s library and using it as a foundational reference for peer-driven learning experiences (asking individual members to explore and lead brief board development discussions).
Among many things I like about this book is its attention to the value of engaging the private sector to build support for mission. One of the book's highlights, for me, was Alice's in-depth discussion of the board’s boundary spanning opportunities/responsibilities as part of that process. It’s one of the better overviews of governance that I’ve encountered in a long time, unanticipated and welcome as I read the book.
I was drawn to Hildy’s work long before I obtained a copy of Pollyanna, so the underlying philosophy didn’t surprise me. What did surprise me was, even though her framework for describing and conceptualizing the work of the “community benefit sector” is pretty unique, my entire reading experience was a series of nonstop “Yes!” “I knew that!” and “Of course!” responses. There’s a strong common-sense element behind what is recognized as a novel perspective to social change and community benefit work.
One thing Hildy always does well: she grounds her writing in reality, connecting the reader to the points she is making to scenarios and illustrations that feel accessible. FriendRaising is one of those extended examples. It’s full of ideas to involve board members in the process of engaging existing and potential supporters. Every board member will recognize one (or more) action that he/she will feel comfortable adopting as a boundary-spanner on your behalf.
(Beth Kanter and Allison Fine)
This book caused a tremor in the sector earlier this year, and with good reason. The authors do more than offer tips for using social media to tell our organization’s story. They challenge us to think differently about how we engage others on behalf of the social change to which we aspire. Board members will identify with – and be challenged by – the conception of a networked nonprofit and the new demands (and opportunities) to reach out in unexpected ways.
It’s a quick read (I covered it in less than an afternoon), with a lot of potential to introduce the process of self-assessment to a board. Gayle poses 34 questions designed to encourage group reflection and evaluation. Pose one question. Pose four. Use the topics presented in a range of ways to spark conversations with the potential to prompt deeper thinking and commitment to more effective governance service.
(Richard Chait, Bill Ryan and Barbara Taylor)
How important is this book to understanding and re-conceptualizing the way we think about nonprofit governance? I wrote a doctoral dissertation exploring one of the more novel aspects of the GAL model. The framework is built around three governance modes. Two, fiduciary and strategic, will undoubtedly ring familiar to most boards. The third, generative, is the creative twist – and the place where the work that inspires and moves boards closer to mission fulfillment usually will lie.