Friday, May 16, 2014

Agenda item: Generate great governance questions in, for the nonprofit boardroom

Agenda item 18: Generate great questions to drive nonprofit board discussions and focus.


Nonprofit boards are supposed to have all the answers, right? They're local experts and community leaders we turn to when we need definitive answers to pressing problems. Their agendas are filled with items requiring decisions, large and small. 

We need answers from our boards. But we also need something just as valuable from them: great, future-oriented questions. It's the essence of generative governance.

Where does our future lie?
What opportunities will we find there?
What do we need to make the journey successfully?
What potential barriers could we encounter?

These offer starting points for the kinds of explorations that nonprofit boards can and should be having on a regular basis. Boards should be creating space in their agendas for not only answering meaningful questions about the future but generating them. Boards should be asking themselves, "What are the questions we should be asking to guide us on the path to fulfilling our mission and vision?" That should be part of their regular governance routine.

It also can and should be a focus of retreats and other special sessions. I've facilitated many board retreats over the years, with different kinds of outcomes sought. But one of the most powerful and effective had a very different kind of goal: generating the questions that the board needed to be asking in the coming year as it anticipated great changes impacting its core client base. 

We looked at what they knew and what they didn't know. We explored different likely scenarios and potential twists. By the time the board left the room, it had a set of fantastic questions about the future and a strong and powerful direction/agenda for the year to come.

What are the kinds of questions that your board needs to be asking about the future? About its role in leading the organization toward it? About the capacities and partnerships you will need to to create to advance it? What kinds of motivating "what ifs" should you be posing to stimulate thinking?

Set aside some time - soon - to begin generating the questions your board needs to be asking to govern for greatest impact.

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