Monday, December 1, 2014

Reconceptualizing nonprofit board needs: One perspective building from mission

Passion for mission? Not enough?

I must admit that the title of Chris Grundner's TEDxWilmington talk ("Modern nonprofit board governance: Passion is not enough!") caught my eye and drew me in when I first encountered it.

I'm still processing his pyramid of board needs (a take-off on Maslow's Hierarchy) and how it prioritizes those needs. But both Grundner's adaptation and the talk as a whole offer a thought-provoking discussion about what contemporary nonprofit governance really needs to fulfill its leadership priorities and potential. I share it today in the spirit of encouraging conversation and expanded thinking - again - about what it is that boards really require to govern effectively.

Please take a few moments (less than 14 minutes) to watch the talk in its entirety. In the meantime, let me list the four layers in his hierarchy for readers. On order of most foundational (base of the pyramid) to highest level, they are:

Passion for mission - also includes the basics of participation, e.g., showing up for meetings and events, making contributions. This parallels my own recruitment bottom line, commitment to mission. "Passion" for me it a step above commitment - and often comes with experience. But, as Grundner says, attraction to the mission is the starting point for board service.

Standards and best practices - critical to board excellence, effective only if we hold members accountable. He makes points about form following function and rules/processes applying equally to everyone. It should be so common sense that he need not point that out. Alas, in practice, we do sometimes play favorites, stretching policy or looking the other way when certain members fall short or misbehave. The larger point: structures and processes that facilitate board work have a legitimate place in nonprofit governance. The key - which can get lost if we are not attentive and committed to it - is that we must build in, and enact, individual and board-level accountability.

By the way, Board Educator Me appreciated him including "Continuing Learning Process" in the visual at this level. I wish he had expanded on that specific element in the talk itself.

Diversity - including diversity of skill sets and perspectives. There can be many ways to define and accomplish these diversity types. Grundner leaves that piece open but makes a great case for ensuring that we have the right mix of voices in the room that are "not afraid to challenge the status quo." He calls for a "culture of constructive conflict" where "purposeful disruption" is welcomed and used on the way to higher quality decisions.

Transcendent leadership - succession planning that creates a ready pipeline for new board members and avoids lost momentum with leadership turnover. Boards "must provide steady stewardship and bold leadership nor more than ever," Grundner says.

As I said, I'm still processing the structure and contents of the hierarchy itself. But the larger message and goals ring true, and Grundner's talk deserves extended visibility and discussion.

I'm interested in hearing what resonates for you, what causes pause, what inspires. What might this particular resource offer to our always growing understanding of nonprofit governance and the boards that enact it?

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