Thursday, August 4, 2011

The joy of nonprofit governance

Where do we find the joy in nonprofit service? In reaching out to others on behalf of our organizations? How do we build the joy our board members feel in fulfilling their essential leadership responsibilities?

Cheyenne attorney - and longtime community servant - Greg Dyekman closed this year's Snowy Range Nonprofit Institute with an absolutely perfect talk, titled "The Joy of Working in the Nonprofit Sector." Greg is an old friend of the institute. He spoke at our very first event in 2002. He's facilitated sessions on tough topics (accountability, anyone??) and left everyone informed, happy and energized. We knew what we were doing when we asked Greg to offer an inspiring close to the 2011 institute. Once again, he more than delivered.

Greg encouraged us to focus on meeting three needs in connecting with others:
  • Opportunities to help. People want to help; nonprofits need to provide meaningful ways for that to happen.
  • To feel needed. People want to feel good about themselves, and they want to belong. Nonprofits offer rich opportunities to engage authentically and, in the process, feed this need.
  • To feel like they've made a difference. They want to matter. They want to contribute to something good and something bigger than themselves.
The nonprofit sector is unique in its capacity to meet all three of those needs, he reminded us. As individual organizations, and as a sector, we can help people find joy. We can provide that to donors, volunteers, staff members and, yes, board members.

Days after Greg's talk, I'm still feeling inspired. I'm still feeling hopeful. I'm also thinking about how, as our marvelous speaker challenged us, we need to ensure that service via governance is a joyful experience for our boards.

My initial instinct was to offer my own interpretation of Greg's three keys as they might apply to boards. I may act on that impulse later. But today, I'd rather leave you with his marvelously succinct message and challenge us all to reflect on how we can bring joy to nonprofit governance. How are we meeting these three needs for our board members?

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Boundary-spanning boards: Promised follow-up

I promised participants in my Snowy Range Nonprofit Institute workshop on Boundary-Spanning Boards that I would share notes and resources from that session here. As usual, I tried to cover too much ground in too little time - an ongoing hazard whenever I talk about nonprofit boards.

In this session, audience members participated in a multi-part activity focused on how their boards can engage others more effectively. The following notes represent ideas shared during the workshop.

Their boards' peer groups 

I asked them to identify their board members' natural peer groups. They listed these connections:
  • The University of Wyoming (there was a strong Laramie contingent in the room)
  • Businesses large and small
  • Other nonprofits
  • Service clubs (e.g., Lions, Rotary, Soroptomist)
  • Media members
  • Communities outside of the organization's home office (statewide nonprofits - not uncommon in Wyoming - relying upon board members to reach out in their communities)
  • Individuals with connections to policymakers - local, state, county, federal
  • Communities of faith
  • Individuals with connections to Wyoming's energy industry
  • Educators (connections, expertise related to the organization's mission area)
  • Mental health substance abuse providers (mission area)
  • Individuals with connections to state and other government agencies
  • A fifth-generation Wyomingite (deep community connections and, in this specific case, also related to the organization's mission area)

Engagement benefits

We talked about potential benefits of boards embracing their community engagement responsibilities. Here are the highlights of that conversation:
  • Greater awareness of (and ultimately participation in) fundraising activities
  • Increased positive perception of the organization (and greater awareness of its full range of programs)
  • Increased perceived success (board enthusiasm for their work and your organization not only is contagious, it creates your organization as strong and successful)
  • Increased participation/numbers of clients, leading to increased grant funding
  • Better quality brainstorming and resulting decisions (because board members are not only out there talking, they're also listening and bringing that information back to the boardroom)
  • Deepened board member commitment (because this is motivating work)
  • Greater cohesion and enthusiasm that also impacts staff
  • More effective feedback

Groups to engage

Next, they identified groups that their boards could engage, or engage more fully:
  • Legislators
  • Other nonprofits (to build positive relationships and opportunities for collaboration)
  • Other boards of directors (offered as part of the contributor's mission work, but also opportunities for boards of other groups to compare notes, collaborate, etc.)
  • Local businesses (to build awareness and support for mission, identify potential donors)
  • Schools (mission-area, to help identify potential service recipients, provide input on programs)
  • Representatives of the legal system (educate judges and others about the specific needs, challenges, etc., that the contributor's organization faces)

Their next steps

We were racing the clock by this time, so this last list is short. That's sad, because the group was hitting its stride and beginning to see the potential of having their boards embrace this work.  I'm hoping that a few of the participants will be willing to offer additional ideas that they either didn't have time to voice or that came to mind after we ended the workshop, via a comment on this post.
  • Put "public awareness" on every board meeting agenda (If you're a regular reader, you know how much I loved hearing that one. This, my friends, is an essential responsibility of governance.)
  • Identify and recruit mentors (community members who are unable to serve on the board [at the moment, at least] but who have expertise that can help the board govern more effectively)
  • Identify their spheres of influence and discuss as a group (Who do they know? Who could they engage, in what ways, in the work of our nonprofit?)
I share these lists here for two reasons: one, to provide an electronic record of the good work that they did in our brief time together and, two, to inspire your boards to ask these same questions and explore how they might expand their own boundary-spanning work.

 Potentially useful links

I promised to share several links with the group.

First, here is a link to Carlo Cuesta's fantastic "60-Second Strategy" video on "Flipping Your Mission." One of those "I'll do it differently" takeaways for this presenter: this video will be shared earlier the next time I do a similar workshop.

Second, this link will take you to my bookmarks that address the boundary-spanning role of the nonprofit board.

Third is a link to the Prezi I created for this workshop.

Finally, I've uploaded the handout I created to accompany that workshop. Click here to access that set of slides.