If I'm not writing about boards, I'm reading about them. In 2012, that reading included four books that helped to expand my thinking about nonprofit governance, each in a unique way.
The Practitioner's Guide to Governance as Leadership: Building High-Performing Nonprofit Boards (Cathy Trower)
Well, my work here is done. I launched this blog in 2007, in part, as a vehicle for exploring and articulated many of the concepts that drew me to Chait, Ryan and Taylor's Governance as Leadership framework. In this new book, Trower offers a phenomenally rich toolbox of resources - examples, questions and checklists - to not only better understand the three modes of governance that make up GAL (fiduciary, strategic and generative) but to implement it. I've been waiting for this book since I cracked open the original for the first time.
Inside the Boardroom: How Boards Really Work and the Coming Revolution in Corporate Governance (Richard LeBlanc and James Gillies)
This title fulfilled its original purpose, by expanding my understanding of corporate governance. But embedded within was an unexpected gift that will resonate with boards in either sector - a 10-type framework describing functional and dysfunctional board behaviors. The categories shared rang true (I recognized board members past - and, yes, my own actions - on both lists). They also invite the reader to be more mindful of group dynamics, the interpersonal factors that impact board effectiveness as much as - and frequently more than - the tasks and job descriptions that tend to dominate our discussions and prescriptions. How do we interact with each other? How do we facilitate effective governance deliberations? How do we inhibit them? What kind of leader guides us to effective outcomes? The authors dug into the messiness that so often stands between us and the good work that we intend to do.
Before You Join a Board: 21 Essential Questions (John Balkcom)
I love a good question, especially when it sparks thoughtful reflection about board service. As the title indicates, John offers a series of questions designed to evaluate whether the fit between individual and board is a good one for both parties. The author organized the book and the questions around three categories: "make or break" (negative responses disqualify service), matters of board hygiene (practices that facilitate board health), and questions distinguishing good practice from great governance. While some questions are corporate specific, most are sector-neutral. All encourage recruits, those currently serving, and the board as a whole to assess what they do, how they do it, and why. Perhaps it's because I've had self-assessment on the brain of late, but I consider this book to be as valuable as part of a board's evaluation toolbox as it is to its original purpose of finding the right fit before one accepts an invitation to serve.
Fired-Up Fundraising: Turn Board Passion into Action (Gail Perry)
I purchased this title because I needed to better understand how to help reluctant board members (myself included) to find their purpose and their specific roles in a local nonprofit's fundraising program. Gail didn't disappoint on that front. Fired-Up Fundraising makes a case for multi-layered board involvement offers accessible strategies for engaging even the most hesitant member in ways that advance the agency's fundraising efforts. But I was caught off guard by her early focus on connecting board members to their deeper motivations, and to linking the outreach we're asking them to make with donors to the compelling vision that drives them all to serve. The foundation she lays is more than "find a way to join board member A's interests with fundraising goal B." It starts with appreciating the significant gifts that members bring to their service, finding ways to respect and fuel their passion to stretch in ways that may initially feel uncomfortable. I know that shouldn't be newsworthy in writing about boards. But when it comes to talking about their roles in fundraising, too often the tone is a negative one, laying out the myriad ways in which we board members fail to live up to expectations. Instead, Gail starts from a different place, one that is respectful of board members' leadership and that is far more likely to foster success in the long run. She also reminds us that fundraising involves far more than making the ask; there are many ways to participate in the process.
While I chose to highlight these four titles as noteworthy for the reasons outlined here, others have been influential in shaping my thinking about nonprofit governance. For a complete list of those I consider to be essential, please visit my "Must-Read Nonprofit Board Resources" Pinterest board. Many are available in eBook form (in fact, all four of the highlighted books can be downloaded), which means you have instant access to quality governance sources over your holiday break.