Monday, April 21, 2014

Nonprofit governance competencies: reflecting on a personally pivotal series

It started with a challenge from a friend: identify the competencies that I consider to be essential to effective nonprofit governance.

I've been living and breathing nonprofit boards for most of my adult life; so my brain is awash in personal experiences, frameworks defined by others, and original research. Over the years, I've attempted to articulate different aspects of nonprofit governance, especially as I've tried to move the conversation beyond the sterile "roles and responsibilities" lists and address the "being" needs that connect members to their deeper motivations to serve.

I'm always thinking about different ways to conceptualize nonprofit governance, so Heather's request was one I accepted gladly. Because I find "roles and responsibilities" to be a limiting - and terribly incomplete - way of addressing what we need, I took a different approach. The result was a list of 10 core competencies that our boards desperately need to govern effectively.

As I clicked "publish" on that post, I realized that the list demanded expansion. The result was a 10-part series that I wrapped up last week. Following is a linked list of the posts in that series:

Competency 1: Understanding the management vs. governance difference
Competency 2: Think strategically
Competency 3: Think critically
Competency 4: Engage respectfully with divergent personalities, perspectives
Competency 5: Great questions that lead to thoughtful, creative decisions
Competency 6: Accept fiduciary, accountability responsibilities
Competency 7: Advocating for your nonprofit's mission, programs
Competency 8: Share your expertise
Competency 9: Accept, share leadership responsibility
Competency 10: Leave personal agendas out of nonprofit boardroom

There is a larger personal purpose for capturing the series components here beyond having a handy way to revisit them as a group. It gives me a chance to step back and reflect on what I have learned in writing the posts. It's also offering an opportunity to assess what, if anything, this framework might be able to contribute to the larger conversation about nonprofit governance and the boards responsible for it.

This reflection is an evolving process, but a couple of thoughts emerge today as I revisit the series and the larger idea I was trying to convey with the original list.

First, I hope that it offers a different - or maybe a more nuanced - way of thinking about board recruitment. So often, we feel victorious if we get to the point of developing a matrix of random skills and demographics and can actually check off a few boxes. Those elements are important, but they are not enough in identifying what we need to govern.

In this list, I'm also trying to do a better job of capturing the capacities that foster a culture of creative collegiality. That is rooted in my ongoing explorations of the group dynamics concepts that define whether or not boards focus on working together effectively and creatively to achieve a common purpose.

I'm mindful of not claiming anything more here than an honest attempt to enrich our understanding of what effective nonprofit governance requires. But I hope that that effort is informative and useful to you and your boards. If it fulfills a larger function somewhere in the governance conversation, that is a bonus.


SPSmith said...

I like the list of competencies, Debra. #5 for me ties in to the "Generative discussion" idea that came from Chiatt et al in "Governance as Leadership." This list could stimulate a lively conversation at a board orientation session.

Debra Beck, EdD said...

Competency 5 is a personal favorite, Steve. :) I'm revisiting Governance as Leadership right niow (series starting shortly), which is reinforcing the importance of inquiry as a governance function. So important - and so fulfilling for smart community leaders.

I really appreciate your feedback. It inspires me to follow up on my impulse to turn this into an e-book.