Monday, April 4, 2016

A billion acts of nonprofit board courage

"What we need is a billion acts of courage right now."

Courage is a primary fuel for nonprofits everywhere. Whether our missions address basic human needs - like education or access to food/shelter - or something that appeals to higher aspirations - like bringing the arts to all corners of our communities - reaching our full potential requires more than a half-hearted effort. It requires deep, sustained courage.

That's true for pretty much everyone in our organizations. But nowhere is it more true than in our nonprofit boardrooms. As leaders ultimately charged with identifying and advancing those compelling missions, and the expansive visions of the future that drive them, our boards must enter every meeting prepared to act courageously in all of their governance work.

Boards must define the seemingly impossible-but-essential paths toward mission fulfillment. They must commit to supporting organizational leadership in creating those paths. They must advocate for our missions and to locating the resources needed to make them possible. They must reach out to extend and expand community support for our work and our organizations. They must make the occasionally tough calls that define external boundaries that prevent mission creep.

Boards make - and must continue to make - courageous decisions on our behalf, every day. They cannot be timid. They cannot be thoughtless They cannot enter the boardroom with anything less than their best. They must be courageous.

Clearly, I cannot answer for you what "courage" looks like for your organization and its board (though I definitely am hoping you'll share a response to that via comment on this post). Instead, in the spirit of continuing the spirit of inquiry started in the recent Question Week series, I can leave you with a question to pose to your board:

I'll offer that general question as the starting point for your conversation but acknowledge that you may also need to ask a companion question, such as:

  • What is keeping us from taking this step so far?
  • What is the outcome we fear if we fall short?
  • What do we need to feel confident to move forward?
  • Who needs to take the lead to make this happen? 
  • What one step can we take, today, to initiate the process?

I'll add a natural follow-up that should accompany the original, for every board's consideration:

  • What is the best possible outcome of that courageous act - for our community, for our organization?

What does an "act of courage" look like for your organization? For your board? Do you have an example you could share with readers?


GayleGifford said...

I am so with you on this. I include a discussion of courage on the part of board members in all of the trainings I do on boards. It's the last chapter in my book. Along with exercising personal discipline, it needs to be written into every board and board member job description.

Debra Beck, EdD said...

I need to go back to your book and re-read that chapter, Gayle. Thanks for the reminder - and the role model for embedding this into our board trainings and interactions.