Friday, January 17, 2014

Agenda item: Reconnect to the future

NOTE: In the spirit of making this blog's 2014 nonprofit governance agenda as practical as possible, I'm adding a new feature: the "governance agenda item." These brief posts will pose a priority, action item, critical question that moves the conversation forward.

Agenda Item 3: Periodically reconnect to your vision of the future.

How often do you stop and reflect, collectively, on your ultimate impact as a board and as an organization?

Earlier this week, I opened a local board's retreat with a version of the following question:

"When all is said and done - when you've successfully fulfilled your mission and reached your vision of the future - what will be the impact of the ABC Organization?"

The breadth and depth of their responses didn't surprise me (I've long admired this board's capacity to balance today's concerns with tomorrow's purpose.). But they reminded me of the value of taking time, on a regular basis, to reconnect to why you exist in the first place.

Without breaking confidentiality, I can summarize the types of responses that that one question produced.

Board members described a future that reflected care for the ongoing needs of clients - that they would be either no longer needs or they would be provided by resources that offer better, more comprehensive services. They talked about clients who are in a better place personally because the organization was there when needed. Individual lives were impacted positively. 

In that future, board members also recognized cultural and public policy changes that both drove and resulted from their work. The organization no longer was needed, in part, because it was part of a larger social shift.

To my complete and utter delight, members also listed organizational impacts - a future where they provided a role model for effective governance, stewardship and collaboration.

It might have been the nature of the work that followed (Future-focused questions drove the retreat agenda.). But it was interesting to see how they drew on this opening discussion as inspiration in those succeeding conversations. 

Surely, that must have taken a ridiculously major amount of time, right? 

It took less than 10 minutes.

What would be possible if you kept your board connected to its reason for being? How would an expanded focus on the future shape its ability to think about today's responsibilities? How might board member attention and commitment shift with ongoing links to bigger community impact?

What question could you pose to your board tomorrow to begin that process?


Jane Garthson said...

Thank you so much for pointing out how little time this can take with the right questions being asked! Most board meetings spend more time approving an agenda than on such critical discussions.

Nancy Iannone said...

If boards aren't spending the time to have this discussion at each meeting, how are they creating the context for their decisions?

I agree with Jane Thanks for taking the time to point out that discussion doesn't have to be lengthy to be meaningful.