Monday, July 22, 2013

Book review: You & Your Nonprofit Board

Christmas in July? That's what it felt like earlier this month, when two new books on nonprofit governance arrived on my doorstep. As I read both, it became clear that each title has something unique to contribute to the conversation about what it takes to govern effectively.

In the next two (or more) posts, I'd like to share highlights from each and suggest ways to apply to a board setting.  Today, I'll introduce  you to a new volume edited by Terrie Temkin, You and Your Nonprofit Board: Advice and Practical Tips from the Field's Top Practitioners, Researchers, and Provocateurs. *

I read this one with great pleasure and anticipation for two reasons. One, I know and am a fan of nearly half of the authors who contributed chapters. Two, it's explicitly written for board leaders, members, and the executives who support them.

The opportunity, if not for direct applicability, the potential for rich discussions about different ways of governing is huge with this book.  In this book, you have direct access to some of the finest, most creative minds and their innovative approaches to shaping boardroom culture and practices.  Their wisdom is shared in an accessible, practitioner-friendly format.

Ideally, each board member would receive a copy of this book, which could then be used as a focal point for group exploration and reflection on ways to enhance performance. Since that may not be financially feasible for every board, buying one agency copy, then sharing with members, is a realistic option. I'd take it a step further, though (as I've done with other board books),  and do so with an assignment: Ask a member to review one of the chapters that address a current board challenge, research the author's related work in greater depth, and present a brief learning experience to the group.

Among the helpful features included within the text are these pull-out sections:
  • Practical tips
  • Definitions
  • Food for thought
  • Example and 
  • Watch out!
Each enhances the value and applicability of the chapter in which it is located.

While impossible to spotlight all of the sections that struck a chord, I will highlight a representative sample, to give you an idea of what's in store for you as a reader.

Choice, Future, and Communities: The True Role of the Board and Governance (Steven Bowman). This chapter opens the book and centers on a quote by Steven that I shared earlier this summer. In this article, Bowman expands upon the implications for each component of that definition of governance. In the process, he brings it to life in practical ways that resonate with board members.

Effective Board Decision Making (Jane Garthson). Ah, the art of decision making. The importance of decision making. The importance of having all that we need - context, (appropriate) detail, timeliness - of decision making. Jane offers a series of questions to guide us in that process. She also offers a series of fantastic "up-front" and "analysis" questions to help to ensure that that process is a thorough, thoughtful one.

You're Not the Boss of Me: The Board Chair and CEO Relationship (Gayle Gifford). Few people understand the importance of that core leadership relationship, and what it takes to nurture it to the full benefit of the board and agency, better than Gayle. This chapter reminds me of that. It also reinforces the message that the board chair role can, and should be, a more proactive one. Effective board chairs lead. This "food for thought" insert was a convicting one: "Imagine if, instead of being on the phone daily with the CEO, the chair spent a few moments each day mentoring or engaging with a fellow board member" (p. 154).

Boards as Bridges (Brent Never). This marvelous chapter introduces two lenses for viewing the board's boundary-spanning role. The "representative" view frames that responsibility as a networking function: creating and sustaining connections to networks of stakeholders. The "resource" view frames those connections in terms of access to needed resources.

Beyond Bylaws: Sharpening Expectations to Tap the Full Potential of Your Board (Bill Musick). I've already "stolen" the best part of this chapter to use with boards down the road. Rather than focusing on the "thou shalts" and "thou shalt nots," he turns the conversation around to a discussion of "envisioning 'the board we want to be.'" The drivers of this process are a series of questions Musick poses, designed to focus attention on setting high the high bar I've been calling for here - and, in the process, inspiring members to reach for that full potential.

Order one copy. Order 20. But order this marvelous new resource as an investment in your board's capacity.

* I try to remain agnostic when providing links to recommend, preferring to send you to publisher sites when possible. You should be able to order "You and Your Nonprofit Board" from your favorite bookseller, whatever that resource may be.


Marion Conway said...


Thank you for this great review. i am honored to be part of this project and I appreciate your support and wonderful review.


POLS 4710/5710 said...

This book is a *tremendous* contribution to the nonprofit governance conversation - and our collective governance toolboxes. I read and, no surprise, thoroughly enjoyed your chapter, Marion. Kudos for your role in this marvelous project!

GayleGifford said...

Thank you Debra for your kind words about this book. I was honored to be included. Terrie did an incredible job as editor. And I have to say, I sat down and read the whole book through when it arrived in the mail, totally enthralled by my colleagues and their wisdom. There is a lot here to keep learning from.

Debra Beck, EdD said...

It was a pleasure, both to read your contribution and to help spotlight the wisdom shared in it. Thanks or sharing a sampling of your endless expertise re board leadership.