Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Quotable nonprofit governance: Creating a boardroom culture of inquiry

This week, I launch a summertime series, "Quotable Nonprofit Governance," sharing awe-inspiring and instructive insights from several of my favorite nonprofit board resources. My goal is to not only share great quotes but to also suggest ways to use them to inform your own approach to governance.

Why start this series with this particular quote? Because I believe that the greatest potential - and potential limitations - come down to the culture we create in the nonprofit boardroom. 

We can have the most detailed job description possible. We can have the "perfect" mix of backgrounds, demographics and skills. But unless we create and nurture an environment where board members are encouraged (even expected) to stretch, question and imagine, we'll inevitably end up with the same stale, half-baked attempts at oversight that we tend to have now. We'll also continue to have checked-out board members who  perform to our oh-so-low expectations.

The last sentence of this Nancy Axelrod quote provides the ultimate rationale for working toward a culture of inquiry in the nonprofit boardroom: We make better decisions when they're informed by "robust discussions in which multiple ideas are vetted." We've had a chance to examine the question from different perspectives, we've probed the options, we've engaged in occasionally raucous debate in search of the right path for our organization - and we've emerged with the best possible decision we can make in that context.

The next-to-last sentence also is critical: A culture of inquiry is a far more interesting, inspiring and enriching space for smart people to work. You'll get our best when we're inspired to bring and use it.

A couple of questions for reflection:

  • Do we see evidence of a culture of inquiry in our nonprofit boardroom?
  • What might such a culture make possible for our board deliberations - and the board experience?

Find this quote - and more information - in the original resource: Culture of Inquiry: Healthy Debate in the Boardroom by Nancy Axelrod.

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