Friday, July 29, 2011

Overheard: July 29

I'm opening this week's list of favorite links with a post just discovered in my morning Twitter feed. The timing is perfect for such an inspirational post, since I'm feeling pretty depleted by logistics work for my Snowy Range Nonprofit Institute, which begins Sunday night.

Real Sacrificial Board Giving (Episcopal Charities & Community Services)

I don't know the person behind the @ECCSOnline tweets and blog posts; but in the weird and wonderful world of social media, a girl can develop enriching kinds of relationships with people who end up feeling like kindred spirits. In an environment where too many organizations obsess over tactics and the "X easy steps" of governance, I gravitate toward voices that understand and advocate for the meaningful work that should drive all of it. Earlier this month, the person behind the tweets shared the quote by Kathryn Tyler Scott that provides the foundation for this post (“…to preserve your organization for a time you will not see, and for people you never will meet"); and it took my breath away. How can we sum up nonprofit governance more perfectly? How would governance change if that idea shaped our work? This post addresses that so well, and so powerfully. Yes, I've added it to my "board essentials" bookmark list - it's "must" reading for any nonprofit governing body.

Should staff contact with the board be restricted? (Jan Masaoka)

This one drew a lot of interest on Twitter when it started circulating, which didn't surprise me. In my work with boards, I've noticed that the question of staff/board interaction tends to raise the eyebrows - if not hackles - of many an executive director. It's a sticky subject, for good reason. The tradition of a CEO buffer between the two groups is a long one, one with legitimate reasons behind it. But is isolating the groups practical, or ultimately desirable? Some peers reading this post will disagree with me on this, but I'm of the mind that creating appropriate opportunities for the two groups to interact can be a good thing. I say that as both a board member and a former staffer who worked with a board. I offer two recommendations. First, encourage/expect board presence at events in the life of the organization (volunteer recognition events, holiday parties, etc.). Second, create legitimate opportunities for the two groups to work together to advance your mission (in particular, staff participation in committees where they have expertise, knowledge, and a stake in the results). This doesn't mean that you abandon structures and policies that respect the ED's leadership of day-to-day organizational life. There simply are other good reasons to bring the board closer to that work - specifically, how it brings you closer to your mission - and to help the staff understand who the board is, what it does, and why its work matters. Actually, I have an entire master's thesis worth of research on this topic, which begs to be shared in this space.

Executive committee? No thank you (Hildy Gottlieb)

Hildy shared this reflection on discussions emerging early in the formation of Creating the Future that likely will resonate for organizations of various ages. Do you have an executive committee? What role does it play? Is it a help or hindrance? If you don't have an executive committee, how has your board addressed the "stuff" that comes up? I'd appreciate any thoughts you might have on this, as I'm not firmly on either side of the discussion. I must admit, though, I do like the "Stuff Happens Committee" idea that Hildy proposes, and her rationale for framing it that way. The terminology gives off a very different vibe than an "executive" committee. As someone who believes strongly that words matter, I'm intrigued by the implications.

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