Friday, February 7, 2014

Agenda item: Burning board question

Agenda item 6: Institute a "burning board question" into each agenda.

This week's nonprofit governance agenda item legitimately qualifies as a "change just one item on your agenda and change your board's destiny" step: Build a "burning board question" into the group's work.

The focus of this question can be almost anything governance-related: e.g., a query about some aspect of your mission, on outreach work that the board of which the board can be part, public policy changes that impact your work, planning for your coming capital campaign.

What is most important about this question is that it should:

  • Draw member attention to a higher-level governance responsibility
  • Require some research - they must explore, engage others as they gather data, and otherwise come to the meeting prepared and knowledgeable
  • Invite a range of perspectives - no quick, easy yes/no response should be possible
  • Engage board member passions and brains - they should see why this matters and how their participation, and even leadership, is important to the organization and its community.

The questions can come  from anyone and anywhere. But they gain some power when board members themselves identify what needs to be asked and when they lead the process for exploring the answers.

This one covers the first item on on my 2014 nonprofit governance agenda. Generative questions and conversations are one of the core components of the Governance as Leadership framework - and one of the biggest departures from the typical mode of board work. Simply engaging members in substantive discussions about higher-level, future-oriented promises major impact. They focus board attention on legitimate governance responsibilities. They connect board members' contributions of time and talent to issues and opportunities that matter to the organization's success in the future. And they have the potential to reach and engage members where they are motivated.

A reminder: Creating space for this work is not taking time away from "real work." It is part of the real work of governance. 

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