Formal training events may or may not solve nonprofit board performance problems; but they often provide the entry point for the conversation and, if we're lucky, the opportunity to move toward the improved governance capacity that our organizations desperately need.
I still hold firm to a vision of a learning environment where formal learning events play an appropriately small role in the larger context. But I'm also realistic: many boards and nonprofit executives - and possibly some board consultants - undoubtedly see training sessions as the primary vehicles for educating members and effecting performance change. (Hey, I have a doctorate in adult and postsecondary education and I'm only beginning to scratch the surface of the board performance improvement puzzle.)
Board members also have limited time and energy to devote to a voluntary commitment, important though it may be. A two-, four-, or six-hour session on a Saturday may be all they have available at the moment to dedicate to building their collective capacity as a board. Faced with this reality, and knowing I have only a brief period of time to help prepare a board for the work it wants to do, I try to make the most of the experience. But to be honest, I almost always leave wishing I could extend the process for them, offering at least a hint of the performance support that they need to succeed.
That follow-up often is not possible, largely due to limited time and funding. But I still see the potential to extend the learning experience and the success potential if they - we - could continue the work together.
What follows will not be news to many readers, both board development peers and governing bodies who have access to the kinds of support I describe. But as I close the seventh month of this year-long journey exploring nonprofit board learning environments, I'm feeling the need to stop for a moment and reflect on what might be possible if taking that comparatively small next step, providing a footbridge to performance improve, were possible. Today, I share two things: the questions I might ask to continue the process and some platforms I might use for supporting a board after training.
Performance support question examples
- How can I help you today? (Oversimplification, but potentially all we really need to get to the performance support point)
- How is the board progressing toward the next steps we identified the last time we were together?
- What aspects of the work needed have been easy or straightforward to address? What has made that so? (clues into motivations, existing support, leadership, etc.)
- What parts of that work have been more challenging? What's making that harder to accomplish?
- What are the greatest sources of anxiety for board members right now?
- What are the greatest sources of pride for them?
- What support - information, technical assistance, partners, etc. - do you most need right now? How can I help you access that support?
- Are there challenges to keeping all board members motivated and accountable for the work that needs to be done? What kind of support can I provide to ensure that their commitment to this performance improvement remains high?
- What kind of coaching can I provide for your board leader(s)? Your CEO?
- What kind of coaching or follow up can I provide for the board as a whole?
- What additional training would be helpful for the board as it anticipates the next phase of this work?
Performance support platform examples
- Face to face session(s) with board as a whole or board committee(s)
- Webinar follow-up with the board (for Q&A/support or additional training)
- Coaching sessions - face to face, audio or videoconference - with board leader(s) and/or CEO
- Email access for questions and referrals
- Board performance support site/portal (for on-demand access to resources on common board questions)
No, I'm not the only board development person who's ever thought of those questions or used those platforms to support governance work. I offer these examples today to help you and your board consider the kinds of support you likely need to ensure that the training you receive actually moves you toward improved performance. As I said above, this is as much a reflection for my own learning and development as it is advice for readers. I welcome any feedback, examples, etc., that might inform my thinking and expand future readers' understanding.