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What are the core competencies required for nonprofit boards to lead and govern effectively?
A good friend posed that question to me early last month, as part of an exciting new project that promises to be a major gift to the sector. I was happy to oblige, in part, because I support that endeavor and my friend. But I also accepted the challenge because it felt like a new way to expand my own thinking about what we need to understand and enact effective nonprofit governance.
My list evolved over the month, as I refined both my definition of "competency" and my list of board essentials. What I'm sharing today today represents that synthesis, ready for public sharing and discussion. Here are my "10 core nonprofit board/governance competencies:"
- The capacity to recognize and respect the functional differences between management and governance.
- The ability to think strategically and engage in future-oriented discussion and planning.
- The willingness to think critically – to accept, analyze, and then discern between divergent sets of information and experiences.
- The capacity to engage respectfully with a wide range of personalities and worldviews.
- The capacity and willingness to seek out information, ask provocative questions, and use the result of that learning to drive thoughtful decision making (intellectual curiosity).
- The capacity to understand and accept the fiduciary/accountability responsibilities of governance.
- The capacity to advocate for your mission and programs with others, from one-on-one to group settings.
- The willingness to share your knowledge/expertise/experience to expand the board’s collective capacity to govern.
- The willingness to engage as part of a leadership team.
- The willingness to set aside personal agendas for the greater good.
I see these as essential competencies that each board member should bring to the table. I recognize that we humans have different strengths and our own "personal growth areas." But one of the reasons for choosing these 10 criteria is their individual and collective representation of what we can expect from smart, effective community leaders. None of these should be unreasonable reaches for anyone we're inviting to serve on one of our boards.
I tried to stay away from criteria that might be too specific, or lists of skill sets, given that different boards (and their missions) will have varying needs at any point in their organizational lives. You will see some overlap with my previous "dispositions of nonprofit governance" list. Their roles are complementary but ultimately not identical. The former represent more individual qualities. The latter offer core capacities and ways of working that board members should have.
There's a reason the list is committed to computer hard drive and not stone tablet - as right as they feel to me at the moment, they ultimately represent my interpretation at this point in time. They necessarily remain a work in progress. I'm interested in your feedback on the competencies that I have outlined here, and on the basic premise of this kind of framing.
As I prepare to click "publish," these criteria beg for expansion. I'll launch a brief, 10-week series on Wednesday doing just that.