Monday, February 17, 2014

Nonprofit governance: Questions for reboot

If nonprofit governing bodies didn't already exist and you wanted to invent them, what questions would you ask? What would they look like in the end?

I encountered a parallel version of those questions while reading a new book on higher education recently. It prompted me to think about the elusive "better way" of governing that always is on my mind. As a sector, we seem to be quite dissatisfied with the current state of nonprofit boards; but there is nothing resembling consensus about what the alternative would look like.

Because I believe in the power of a good question, I'm resisting my initial urge to answer the two that opened this post directly. Instead, this morning I offer the kinds of questions that would lead us, collectively, to a satisfying and perhaps more effective definition of nonprofit governance.

Here are those questions:

  • What should our governing bodies do that no one else can do for us?
  • What kinds of leadership do we need from these groups? What does that leadership look like?
  • What kinds of personal attributes do we require of all who serve?
  • What specific kinds of contributions do we need these groups to make?
  • To whom are these bodies accountable?
  • What kinds of connections/responsibilities do these groups need to those who whom they are accountable?
  • How will these bodies define success? 
  • How will we acknowledge these groups' collective contributions? The individuals' contributions?
  • How will we support these bodies' success?

While the questions above are hardly all-inclusive, they offer a good foundation for conversations leading to a rethinking of nonprofit governance and the bodies that provide that specific kind of leadership.

When all is said and done, we may emerge with something closely resembling our current boards. We might see something resembling Community Engagement Governance, which takes a broader and more collaborative approach to providing nonprofit and community leadership. We may come up with something altogether different.

But we start with questions that require us to do a better job of envisioning and articulating the kind of leadership that our communities - and, by extension, our organizations - ultimately need.

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