"Boards are dead. Long live governance."
That catch phrase/theme emerged in the first governance track session at the 2010 ARNOVA (Association for Research on Nonprofit Organizations and Voluntary Action) conference in November, growing with each new set of papers and discussions. I've been thinking about that, off and on, since returning to Laramie, wondering what that phrase might mean to board members and practitioners in the field. (Scholars are full of ideas, not all of them translating well to the "real world" in which boards and executives work.)
I can't vouch for what every participant in those discussions had in mind as the phrase was batted about, but I do have a few thoughts about what it means to me and how it might relate to governance practice.
"Boards are dead..."
- as most agendas currently define them
- as homogeneous (in demographics and thought) entities
- as lines on resumes
- as "any live body will do" recruitment
- as oriented - or not oriented
"Long live governance..."
- as community leadership
- as mission advocacy
- as generative work
- as a meaning-making/fulfilling experience
- as boundary spanning
- as mission-driven work
- as direction-defined/defining responsibility
- as inspirational and inspiring service
- as setting the tone of leadership for the organization*
I trust that colleagues and other readers will have their own interpretations of the phrase and how it might translate into governance practice - both as it exists now and as it could be conceived to greater effectiveness. I'm interested in reactions from the field, both from board members and those who support them. Is there any merit in the way that statement frames the discussion about the challenges that nonprofit boards face? Or does it only muddy the waters?
* A marvelous addition recommended by the wise Bonnie Koenig. Thanks, Bonnie!