I attended the Non-Profit Summit presented by the Ausherman Foundation. If any of you reading this are involved with non-profit organizations, I would highly recommend attending next year’s event. The day was packed with very worthwhile information presented by very knowledgeable speakers.
Two of the workshops I attended were led by Michael Daigneault. His goal was to envision boards that had a waiting list of people wanting to be on the Board. Can you imagine? He said that a Board’s primary roles are not simply to steer and control the organization but to influence and persuade. This is the distinction between governance and management. Boards have three roles: fiduciary or the day to day oversight of activities and staff; Strategic or the ability and authority to interpret why we do what we do and Generative or the ability to constantly respond to new situations. It is this final responsibility that many boards lack and that also truly defines great leadership.
I thought it interesting how well Daigneault meshed with other material I have been reading from Tom Suddes who talks about the ability to see things from a 30,000 foot level, a 15,000 foot level and a three foot level. Boards need to be able to not only see the big picture (Generative/ 30,000ft) but to talk about it and determine the future of the Board. Daigneault suggested that the best way to do this is to establish a culture of inquiry on the Board. The best discussions might not come from statements but from questions.
A significant portion of any Board meeting needs to be focused on these Generative questions. I have found that many Board have a tendency to get so involved in the management of the organization that they lose sight of why they are there in the first place. People get burned out dealing with the day to day details if they are not constantly reminded of the larger purpose of the organization. This is why I think it is so important for an organization to have a clear and compelling vision. This is not just a piece of paper, but it is a dynamic statement held before the Board at every meeting that gives purpose to what we do. It rejuvenates us when we are weary, it focuses us when we are overwhelmed, it guides us when we are lost.
Several books were suggested: “Governance As Leadership” by Richard Chait; “Fundraising in Times of Crisis” by Kim Klein;
An article: “The Networked Non-Profit” by Jane Wei-Skillern and Sonia Marciano in Stanford Social Innovation Review
A website Blog: Blue Avocados by Jan Masoka
A resource: www.BoardSource.org