Screen Shot 2017-04-13 at 9.43.40 AM

A nonprofit debated keeping their Form 990 tax return private and sharing it only with the Executive Director and Executive Committee.  The well-intended conversation was based around the financial disclosures that might cause concern to individuals who reviewed the form without appropriate context.  Eventually, the board reached the realization that Form 990 was a public document, viewable on a number of public websites.  Secondly, a board member made a compelling argument that the organization should use the Annual Report as a way to put the programs and numbers in context.  Lastly, the Treasurer and Finance Chair walked the board through the return, stumbling upon Part VI, Section B, Question 11a, “Has the organization provided a complete copy of their Form 990 to all members of its governing body before filing the form?”  The board discussion turned into an act of governance.

The question of which documents must be made public and which may remain confidential causes confusion.  Many social sector enterprises invest significant time and energy into debating this topic.  BoarSource provides a one-page overview that may be especially helpful as a starting point.  I encourage sharing this resource so more time can be spent on the work that matters.


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.

BoardSource Leadership Forum- Day One 2014


Remarkable content and insights at the BoardSource Leadership Forum.  Here are ideas that I am excited to explore further.

Daniel Forrester

  • Leaders are spending their time in the following ares: 30% interruptions, 25% content creation, 20% meetings, 15% absorbing content, and 5% thinking.
  • What books are you re-reading to confirm or challenge your original assumptions?
  • Big Ideas–>Culture–>Dialogue are three areas where we can be obsessive

Cathy Trower: Stage V Thinking

  • The five stages of thinking
    • Stage 1: collective, analyzing, interpreting
    • Stage 2: Strategic decision-making
    • Stage 3: Strategic planning
    • Stage 4: Execution.  Reviewing progress against the plan
    • Stage 5: Sensemaking
      • Engage board members as thought partners, not technicians
      • Distinguish between discussion (action focused) vs dialogue (exploration and new ideas)

Thomas McLaughlin: Nonprofit Collaboration

  • Alliance is required for economic, resource, and operational sharing.  Mergers required in a corporate to corporate union.
  • Corporate structures are allergic to mergers so they need time and both parties have to win.
  • Honoring the brand is important.
  • Culture is exponentially more important that strategy.
  • Ask, what does success look like?  Who else has done this before?  What did the merger look like?

Richard Mittenthal: Governance 3.0

  • Consider strategic initiatives that embrace the entire ecosystem your organization occupies, not just your enterprise in isolation.
  • Build board capacity by providing board with the vocabulary and technical understanding necessary to discuss programs.
  • Distinguish between collaboration and collective impact.  Collaboration does not give-up much whereas collective impact sacrifices for the whole.
  • Is your organization breaking down the board walls by inviting external guests and taking field trips?

Gigi Woodruff: Advancing Governance

  • Search YMCA’s Board Leadership Competency Model for great resources
  • Six Competencies
    • Inclusion
    • Influence
    • Decision-Making
    • Philanthropy
    • Emotional Maturity
    • Functional Expertise
  • Ask the board: How will we show-up?  How are we related to the bigger opportunity? Which competencies are you going to commitment to during the next year?
  • Who on the board asks, what just happened?
  • Recruit new board members by allowing them to tell their stories and sell themselves to you

Holly Duckwork: Ctrl+Alt+Believe

  • Reboot your organization by transcending history and hierarchy
  • Dying organizations have three common themes: fear, doubt, lack.  Growing organizations: faith, courage, abundance
  • Ask, what are we optimistic about?
  • Combine two best practices to create a new practice
  • Zappos top five core values are remarkable
    • Wow through service, embrace and drive change, create fun and weirdness, be adventurous and creative, and pursue growth