Friday, May 17, 2013

Overheard: May 17 edition

This week, I'd like to open with a couple of submissions to the latest blog carnival, which challenged participants to write a letter to one of their boards. The two I'm sharing today resonated while sharing very different - and familiar - sentiments.

A love letter to my first board of directors (Joanne Fritz)

I'm particularly fond of Joanne's letter for two reasons. One, the general theme reflects my own lucky first-board experience. We weren't perfect; but we were committed, collegial and accountable. Two, while it wasn't "my" board, I was grateful for the chance to observe exactly the kind of governing body that Joanne describes during my dissertation research. My gratitude for being allowed to witness that exemplary process firsthand remains strong. (Hmmmm. Maybe my own contribution to the carnival just identified itself.)

Dear board members...I'm sorry about so very much! (Erik Anderson)

Let's just say several points in this submission were convicting. I'm like most board members: I've experienced, and been an active participant in, my share of deeply flawed boards. I choose to believe that we generally fall short because we don't know any better. If we understand what effective governance looks like, and if we have the support we need to engage in those activities successfully, I'm convinced that that is what 99.99999999 percent of us would choose. But we don't, so we continue to replicate the varied dysfunctional relationships and processes that we experienced in the last boards where we served. It's time to change that. One baby step is acknowledging what's broken and making good-faith efforts to change them.

Boards must engage in learning as a core competency (Marty Martin)

I know you're shocked - SHOCKED! - that a post promoting board development might appeal to the author of a blog with "board learning" in the title. Okay, so you're not shocked. One aspect of this post that I appreciated, aside from the major message conveyed, is the set of three learning needs areas that Martin outlines: leadership and management, stewardship of resources, and public responsibilities. The categories are perfect, comprehensive, and focused on the unique leadership and accountability ares of nonprofit governance.

What makes great boards great (Jeffrey Sonnenfeld)

I rediscovered this foundational work this week, while catching up on the stack of journal articles that begged to be read. One of those articles referenced Sonnenfeld's Harvard Business Review work, which helped to shape my thinking on governance. I was surprised - and pleased - to find this publicly accessible version, made available by the Council on Foundations. While corporate governance is the specific context, what Sonnenfeld shares also fits the nonprofit setting. Pay particularly close attention to the five best practices of effective boards that he discusses. "It's not rules and regulations. It's the way people work together." Bingo.

Audit Guide for Charitable Nonprofits (National Council of Nonprofits)

Finally, because it's impossible to be too clear on the tricky subject of nonprofit audits, I share this new resource from the National Council of Nonprofits). It's credible, it appears to be user-friendly, and it should be bookmarked by board members and senior executives alike.

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