Three Big Observations from the BoardSource Leadership Forum

Screen Shot 2015-11-11 at 10.18.21 AMAdvocacy:  Advocacy has been mentioned in passing as a core responsibility of serving on a nonprofit board, however the concept has received little definition and is rarely promoted with clarity.  A coalition of nonprofit leaders have assembled to elevate and define the role of advocacy.  BoardSource and other national organizations are launching campaigns and trainings including Stand for Your Mission to encourage individuals to stop just ‘sitting’ on boards and start ‘serving’ the mission.  You can get more details at BoardSource and #ADVOCACYNOW.  Examples of advocacy include engagement in the broader social sector, advocating with local and state government officials, being a bridge within the corporate and benefit sectors, and supporting candidates who will help further an organization’s mission.  For too long the Social Sector has looked at advocacy and lobbying as the third rail however it is a sector that represents a significant portion of GDP and their is no formal lobby and little coordinated activity.
Generative Thinking:  Generative thinking first came onto my radar when Richard Chait presented his book, Governance As Leadership.  The ideas were grand but application was challenging.  A few years ago, Cathy Trower authored, Practionier’s Guide to Governance As Leadership.  This resource provided real-world tools as to how to fold the third form of governance into a board’s way of deliberating.  Balancing Fiduciary, Strategic, and Generative forms of governance takes great facilitation from the Executive Director and Board Chair and an aligned board.  Being able to rotate the board’s role from sentinel to strategist to sense-maker based on the current need of the enterprise creates remarkable discussions and meaningful engagement.  In response to the often asked question, why do we need a board, one of the evolving purposes of a board is the ability to be the brain trust for the organization, using their collective intellect to make sense of the organizations’ work and framing how it can best serve.
Better Meetings:  Time and again the sessions on better meetings attracts stand room only capacity.  Either we are all excited to share the excellence of our meetings or more likely our enterprise seeks a renewal when it comes to how we assemble.  Themes that were universal included the use of a consent agendas, meeting less frequently but more productively, homework for board members in advance of meetings, reports emailed in advanced and only discussed if the topic is framed around two or three key questions that require the board’s input.  Additionally, the agenda should reflect the strategic priorities of the organization, employing Roberta’s Rules of Order seems highly preferable to Robert’s Rules, providing an Executive Session with the ED and without, and employing a strategy screen to filter new opportunities.   Nuisances that stood out to me included, putting the organization’s purpose and mission on the back side of name tent cards, placing a name tag over the speakerphone if individuals are attending virtually, circulating a circuit breaker device to stop pointless conversations (one group uses an ELMO doll- Enough already Lets Move On).  Lastly, a few board chairs mentioned that they call a portion of their board members in the days after a board meeting to check-in and get feedback.  Great meetings take care and tremendous facilitation and the results are extraordinary.

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