Friday, October 31, 2014

Overhead or impact: What do we want our nonprofit governance legacy to be?

I don't have much to say about this tweet that it doesn't say for itself. I'm sharing because it captures the theme of pretty much everything I write here: we do this important volunteer leadership work for the chance to make an impact. We want and deserve the opportunity to do so.

Not only is ensuring and increasing impact an essential responsibility of nonprofit governance, it's also a core motivator for most of us as community servants. That's the ultimate point of this quote (original source Dan Pallotta?).

As I've stated many, many times before here, we can't ignore the oversight responsibilities that come with governance. Obviously. But they shouldn't be our sole focus - and too many board meeting agendas are structured as if that were the case.

I'll leave this quote with you to ponder and to share with your own boards. What does it bring up for you? What changes might it prompt you to consider? How can you connect your board and individual members more closely to evidence that their contributions matter?


GayleGifford said...

Of course I agree completely with Pamela. But I have to say, in 18 years of consulting, the number or times I encountered a board that raised the question of overhead as a percentage of total dollars spent would be fewer than the fingers on one hand.
When I worked for a national organization, we lived and died by overhead because we were compared to our peer organizations in the US by donors -- and this was before the days of CharityNavigator et al. So I was always shocked when local boards paid so little attention to how their resources were distributed or to how they portrayed their expenses on their balance sheets.
I believe that organizations need to invest strategically in capacity to achieve impact. But I've also encountered organizations where not much of anything is going on -- and their expenditures are a big red flag to that.
I think my response to the overhead question -- it's complicated!

GayleGifford said...

Correct above -- not "balance sheet" but 990.

Debra Beck, EdD said...

I've definitely seen/heard of the "not much going on" scenario, Gayle. Some of it was not knowing any better; some was, frankly by design ( EDs with a vested interest in disengaged boards).

The part that resonated for me, especially as a board member, was the notion of almost exclusive focus on oversight (so overhead and beyond) to the exclusion of generative or strategic work (or treating that work as special occasion topics reserved for retreats).

The whole idea that the very work that inspires most of us to serve still is treated as frills remains troubling.

It shouldn't be an either/or - oversight vs. impact - but it's still treated as such in too many venues.