Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Nonprofit board learning: A few inspiring thoughts from the LSCon backchannel

Because I self-fund my professional development, I participate in most of my favorite conferences by stalking their backchannels. Last week's 2015 Association for Talent Development (ATD) Learning Solutions Conference (#LSCon) was the predictable learning feast, with several notable ideas sparking reflection on this blog's - and this year's - overall theme.

This week, I'd like to share a few of the tweets that caught my eye and offer a brief reflection on how they connect to my thinking about nonprofit board development. Most of that thinking may be familiar to regular readers, but it is helpful for me - as an adult learner - to pause and connect the dots provided in different contexts.

Karen Bowden's tweet leaped out at me immediately, because it basically sums up my entire philosophy of adult learning (AND board development). As an earlier post laid out, simply offering a training session guarantees nothing when it comes to change in board thinking and performance. We must work together to understand what is needed, for what change, with what outcomes that are mutually satisfying for all. This is no less true in nonprofit board learning.

I love pretty much anything that comes from Julian Stodd's keyboard, so I was heartbroken to realize that I was missing a chance to hear him speak. Fortunately,  the backchannel filled with myriad Stodd insights during his session. This one hit home, in part, because of the experience I shared that was tied to my very first board term.

Not all adult learning can be transformative learning (expect at least one post on this topic down the road). But it should be as tied to personal needs and motivations as possible to have the greatest chance for lasting impact. In a nonprofit setting, where missions are compelling, we must help board members make explicit connections between what they need to know and their interests in advancing your mission and your message in the community. Changing the person is a happy bonus.

This is the bottom line, and the motivation for my focus here this year. Learning works when it enhances our performance as a board and expands our capacity to govern effectively. It must change board practice. Training for training's sake is busy work for volunteer leaders. However learning is happening for our governing body, we must connect those results to what matters most. And, yes, we must acknowledge that training isn't the be-all, end-all answer to our board performance needs.

Yup. Do any of those descriptions in Bianca Woods' photo apply to your nonprofit board development efforts? If the answer is yes, what are you going to do to change that?

 Amen.  These three elements - identifying problems that matter, systematically exploring alternatives, and delivering element solutions - really resonated for me as I thought about how we need to approach nonprofit board development. Which leads me to...

Okay, so this is my big dream and my not-so-secret agenda. What would a board learning and performance ecosystem/environment look like? What would it make possible?  This framework comes from the eLearning Guild, an organization of which I am a member.  There is much to like and apply in what you see here. But there also are opportunities to adapt and add elements that specifically target the nonprofit board environment and the needs of nonprofit board members.

What would a nonprofit board learning environment/ecosystem look like? With what impacts on governance performance?

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