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Can't See the Board for the Trees?

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If you're running an organization with a volunteer board you probably often feel confident that you "get it" 


and other times you leave a meeting feeling completely mystified. 

There are a lot of trees in the forest of nonprofit governance and typically 2 or 3 of those trees will dominate our view at any point in time.  

Maybe the tree you're staring at is a group of wonderful people who love your mission, or a personality that dominates meetings, or maybe it's a bylaw deal like term limits that just can't get resolved.  

Do yourself and your board a favor by taking a look at BoardSource's biennial report, "Leading with Intent: 2017 National Index of Nonprofit Board Practices."

This study uniquely collated feedback from both CEO's and board chairs with over 1,750 responses.  It's compiled with easy to read charts and narrative divided into "what we found" and "why it matters."  You'll find many things of interest. 

Here's a small sample, what the report calls "Opportunities for Reflection" (the note with each item is mine):

  1.  Help your board cultivate a deeper understanding of your organization’s work – Understanding programs leads to mission-based decision making – and enthusiasm, commitment, and reward for board members too.
  2. Create opportunities to build your board’s comfort with and engagement in providing leadership outside the boardroom – We can creatively increase the fundraising, advocacy, and community outreach that is the heart of the purpose of boards.
  3.  Explore and define your organization’s values as it relates to diversity, inclusion, and equity – Expand the conversation about your board’s composition, what does diversity mean for us?
  4. Check in regularly on how well your board understands – and is fulfilling – its roles and responsibilities – You can’t live up to a role (or stay out of someone else’s role) if you don’t get them clear.  So many good things flow from attention here.
  5. Invest in the board’s culture – You have a culture, but it may be fully accidental and partially working against you.  When you read about this you’ll get reinvested.

There are many fascinating findings in this report.  It’s like a drone-view of the forest so you can get your eyes off the trees for a minute!