Monday, January 4, 2016

2016 theme: Leading and learning for greatest governance impact

(Purchased from Bigstock Photo)

Where does the next chapter take this blog? What is the next logical path beyond last year's focus on nonprofit board learning environments? What topic - or mix of topics - represents where I want to go as a writer, researcher, consultant and educator?

I've batted those questions around for a few weeks now, exploring different subject matter possibilities and asking different "what if" questions. In the end, the prospect of continuing the focus on learning for performance that leads to results that matter, and deepened interest in supporting the leaders who make that performance possible, led me to a theme that I believe will lead to the richest exploration of the topics that most beg to be addressed - at least by me in this space:

"Leading and learning for greatest governance impact"

Where the 2015 theme led to an almost singular spotlight on learning (a scary thought at this time last year, to be honest), what I envision for the next 12 months under this new thematic umbrella offers logical extensions beyond the learning foundation already laid.

To what ends? As a board educator and capacity builder, that must be my driving question. Why are we learning? What will be different as a result? For whom? What is the impact of not only our learning, but our work as a governing body? These are the kinds of questions that begged for follow up as I closed out 2015 last week.

What does "performance" look like from our board leaders? What kinds of performance support can we provide to enhance their governance impact? The drive to explore what is possible if our leaders are prepared for greatest impact comes not only as a natural branch of the learning environment path but from my experience as part of the Alliance for Nonprofit Management board chair survey team. I emerged from data gathering and analysis with several burning questions, many of them learning and performance related.

Yes, when I think about it, the theme just articulated is perfect.

How it actually unfolds is part of the adventure ahead. But as I reflect on the "must" topics for the theme chosen, these feel obvious:


  • Continued conversation about what it meant to govern - what is the impact we really want and need from our governing bodies and the leaders who serve on them? What models already exist that offer richer contexts for the work that boards do? What remains to be articulated and discovered?
  • Grounding impact in individual and board-level reflection and self-assessment processes.
  • Identifying authentic ways to make all types of impact real, to board members as well as the stakeholders to whom they are accountable.
  • Renewed exploration of mission advocacy and community outreach (predicting my 30-year PR career may come in handy here).


  • Questions about how we prepare and support board leaders, not only chairs/presidents, but committee leaders and others who assume other leadership roles.
  • Even more questions about how we encourage and support situational leadership and other paths to cultivating the next generation in thoughtful and deliberate ways.
  • Consideration of the kinds of experiences, job aids, peer communities and other supports for effective leadership performance. 



  • Continued exploration of performance and performance support, especially as they relate to the impacts we expect from individual boards and nonprofit governance as a leadership function.
  • Applying adult learning concepts to develop one or more frames for assessing board member learning needs.  
  • Continued application of adult learning concepts and theoretical perspectives to board development.
  • Continued conversations about how we foster learning within the routine activities of board service, as well as formal training events.
  • Continued conversations about how we bring prospective members and new members into full participation in ways that are effective and meaningful.
  • Continued exploration of the community of practice, both as a context for nonprofit governance and as a vehicle for addressing broader (e.g., community, sector, subsector) performance and learning support (a deeply personal one).

Clearly, even scratching the surface of most of those topics is a full-time task and not particularly realistic. But I hope that they give a sense of the direction I hope to take this site in the next year. As always, I welcome your insights, questions, and advice as I lay out the initial steps to move in this direction.

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