Monday, February 10, 2014

Blogiversary: 7 years of nonprofit posting

It all started with a class project...

I launched the Laramie Board Learning Project seven years ago today, as part of a doctoral course requirement. We explored several tools that foster social learning in that University of Wyoming class (though I refused to try Twitter - a fact that might surprise the many friends I've made there). As a former journalist, the notion of launching a blog that I could continue beyond the semester was an attractive one.

I even had the perfect audience: Laramie's nonprofit boards. I envisioned this site as the centerpiece of a broader, community-wide effort to support our local boards. Vision didn't quite meet reality (My one regret in seven years: My choice of name for the site). But what has unfolded to date has far exceeded even the "grand" future I saw as I clicked "publish" on the first post.

My ultimate goal remains the same as it did in 2007: to provide an accessible resource for nonprofit board members. My promise continues to be to (a) address issues and questions that people serving in governance roles face every day and (b) to respect board members as smart, dedicated community leaders.

Those goals are deeply personal. As a board member, I chafe at resources that talk down to me as though I'm an idiot.  I also resent the endless parade of "how to get around/survive the hopeless pack of losers" articles, books and other resources targeting nonprofit executive directors.

I've always started with the assumption that my readers are smart, talented, and driven to make a difference.  Recently, I've found myself taking more of an advocacy role: pushing back when necessary against assumptions and attitudes that insult board members and contradict the community leader role that the sector claims it demands from those who answer the call to serve.

I try for a balance between the practical and what I call the aspirational: between the how-tos that are a legitimate part of board development and the context for understanding what nonprofit governance really is and how it is different from what most boards are doing in meetings. I understand the legitimate learning needs that board members have, even as I also understand there is so much that most board members don't know about the responsibilities they've accepted.

Over time, this blog's call to stretch board members has increased. There are two reasons for this. One, nonprofit governance is far more than the narrow range of oversight roles that dominate too many board meeting agendas. So much of what is needed from our boards is invisible and untouched, and our nonprofits suffer as a result. Two, most of us sign on for board service because we want to make a difference. We want to contribute our time, talent, connections, and more in service to a better future for our communities. But the typical board experience doesn't facilitate that.

A growing theme here over the last year or so has been "Give us a high bar, and we'll rise to those expectations." Most board members I know want to be challenged. We want to ask big, expansive questions about the future and explore pathways that bring us closer to it. We want to contribute our considerable expertise and life experiences in finding the answers. We want to work together to create something bigger and better than we could do alone.

As I look to year eight and beyond, I recommit to these purposes and remain open and responsive to whatever needs emerge along the way. I will continue to find ways to translate the best governance research into practitioner-friendly, actionable ideas. I will continue to look for interesting and occasionally unconventional connections from other disciplines - especially adult learning - to stretch our thinking about nonprofit governance and the boards that accept that responsibility. And I will continue to look forward to engaging readers and colleagues, here or elsewhere, to expand the conversation and definition of what we really need from the community leaders who give so much in board service.


Nancy Iannone said...

Congratulations on 7 years of blogging. That is a lot of intriguing thoughts, challenging questions and astute observations :-)

P.S. Wish I'd quit forgetting to switch out of my personal account LOL

Debra Beck, EdD said...

Grateful for your kind feedback - and continued support - my friend!