Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Boards 101: A few essential resources

"I'm new to nonprofit boards. Where do I go to start understanding what they do and why?"

I'm leading a webinar later this week where that question is likely to arise. Since I won't have my usual opportunity to offer a dedicated "where to go for more" handout, I decided to share that information with a broader audience here.

Let's start with my master "board essentials" list - a catch-all category that captures resources I consider to be particularly valuable in describing the foundational ideas and responsibilities of nonprofit governance. Click here to access the complete list.

While everything tagged contributes something important, I admit that exploring the complete list may still foster a "drinking from a fire hose" experience. Not helpful. So I'll point out a few of the core items as a starting point.

Governance as Leadership: My latest attempt to articulate a revolutionary board model

I'm placing this one as the most essential of all, because it centers nonprofit board work in a model that I believe to be the best fit - so far - to the full scope of responsibilities and purpose: Governance as Leadership. Others might start with the BoardSource "10 essential board responsibilities." I see them as a set of activities that certainly fit within the three governance modes of GAL, but they are not inclusive nor do they adequately connect to the motivations that drive most of us to serve (and to our reasons for being as an organization).

Great boards: Distinguishing governance from management

Developing clarity about what's the board's work versus management's is one of the most traditionally vexing challenges for many nonprofits and their leaders. This fantastic article, published in the Great Boards newsletter, does the best job I seen of making that critical distinction. I regularly assign this as a reading for board development events and retreats, and I've seen the light-bulb moments as members finally identify and (usually) embrace the distinctions. The lack of understanding that there is a distinction going in no longer surprises me; as a sector, we remain quite confused about what constitutes governance (and, as a result, boards often wander off into familiar but inappropriate places). (UPDATE: Alas, the direct link to the PDF doesn't seem to work anymore. Go to greatboards.org, check the "top resources" section in the middle, and scroll down to the link to the article by this name. It also comes up doing an internet search of the title. Sorry about that: it seems to be a recurring challenge with that site. Worth the extra effort, though!)

3 statements that can change the world: Mission/vision/values

As regular readers know, and as webinar participants will soon hear, mission and vision are not frills that boards might squeeze into a retreat once in a while. They are the board's ultimate responsibility and its (and the organization's) whole reason for being. Our values frame how we work and how we make decisions that advance our vision and mission. Hildy Gottlieb's article offers a fantastic, plain-English description of what each statement is and does.

The nonprofit board's mission mandate

Kevin Monroe's excellent article has a way of making that mission connection with most audiences with whom I share it. It centers the board's work exactly where it should be - in the mission. It also introduces the BoardSource 10 responsibilities (and ties them to the board's mission work).

Future proofing the boardroom: Grounding and stargazing

 Lucy Marcus reminds us that the board's work lies in more than the here and now, monitoring role. It also requires stargazing: keeping our eyes just beyond the horizon, envisioning and moving toward a future of resilience and impact. Boards must adopt a future orientation, for the future is where their ultimate responsibilities lie. Lucy's articulation of that responsibility here is superb.

Movie Mondays: The 2 hats board members wear

This brief video addresses an all too common challenge, especially for boards of small nonprofits - and all too often challenges board members who encounter it. The fact is, we board members often find ourselves fulfilling two very different kinds of responsibilities: that of a member of the governing body and that of a volunteer. The two are very different and distinct. They also can create difficulties when board members and staff blur the boundaries. Which "hat" are you wearing as you embark on this task, governor or volunteer? Is it clear with everyone involved?

10 ways to transform board meetings

 This one is not (currently) on my essentials list, but I anticipate that webinar participants will want more detail on how board meetings can be structured differently for governance. We waste far too much member time, energy and enthusiasm in meetings that drain all three and drive board focus from its real work.

This core set of resources offer a more expansive, purpose-driven vision of nonprofit governance. They offer a good starting point for anyone interested in understanding the full potential - and ultimate responsibility - of nonprofit boards.  Because I can't help myself, I'll also share a series of curated resources for those who want to step a bit deeper into the pool. Here are some collections that may be of interest:

My "board+meetings" bookmarks
My Governance as Leadership bookmarks
My  "boards+roles" bookmarks
My "boards+recruitment" bookmarks

Curated resource collections on Pinterest:

Must-read nonprofit board resources
Board-related videos
Nonprofit board essentials (major overlap w/"essentials" bookmarks list above)
Engaging nonprofit boards
Save our (nonprofit board) meetings!
Generative nonprofit governance (pinnable resources from the bookmarks list above)
Inquiring nonprofit boards
Leading nonprofit boards

A resource for nonprofit board presidents:

Making the most of your board


Marion Conway said...


Wow! This is quite a list of resources. It will be one of my recommended resources for sure.



Debra Beck, EdD said...

So glad you see value in the resources shared here, Marion!

By the way, the bookmarks links and Pinterest boards are constantly expanding.