Monday, January 3, 2011

Vision: Asking the right (board learning) questions

“Vision” opened 2010 for me. “Vision” is closing it in generative new ways.

It began with an epiphany in January, while attending the Community-Driven Institute (now Creating the Future) intensive consulting course. In this January 20 post, "It's All about Vision," I admitted something uncomfortable for someone who’s been advising nonprofit boards for several years: I finally understood the ultimate value of vision in shaping the future we want to achieve.

Recently, I’ve been reflecting deeply on articulating a vision that describes and drives my work supporting nonprofit board learning. The draft (it’s a process) vision that emerged from that reflection is this:

“Board members govern generatively, effectively and passionately in service to their communities.”

Exact wording may shift as I have more time to reflect, but the essence is there: whatever I do in this journey, it must support an environment where boards are not only well-informed about their roles but stimulated to act upon the responsibilities of governance in generative and transformative ways - for them as well as the organizations they serve.

With the help of wisdom shared in reading I’ve done this holiday break, I realize that many of the questions I’ve asked are not conducive to the kind of innovative thinking that will move closer to that vision. They tend to be of the “how” variety. “How” questions usually lead to mechanical answers and incremental change. That’s not enough.

Instead, questions asked need to focus more on “why” and “what if.” In that spirit, I’ve begun to outline some of the types of questions I need to be asking, some I’ve been asking all along and some that have been “out there” but not yet uttered. Here are some of those questions.

Why…

  • Are more boards not engaged in the work of governance?
  • Do board members answer the call to serve?
  • Are some boards effective in governing, and what separates them from the others?
  • Does board training fall flat so frequently?

What if…

  • Board members were excited about governance?
  • Board members understood their responsibilities – not just the Big10, but all of them?
  • Nonprofits valued their boards – and acted like it?
  • Nonprofits supported their boards in ways that reflect how they value them?
  • Board development was accessible and engaging?
  • Board development was a transformative experience?
  • Board development was acknowledged as integrated in governance work (not a special event)?
  • Board members knew how they make a difference and were inspired by that knowledge?

Like my vision, these questions are in ‘draft’ form. But they offer at least a general path – on solid footing – in the direction of that better governance future. I’d appreciate your thoughts about the vision, the questions, and the full potential of nonprofit governance and the boards that provide it.

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