Of all the things we talk about with our friends and clients in the nonprofit sector, fundraising and board engagement are always front and center. When things are going well in these two areas, CEOs and Executive Directors feel on top of the world. When development results falter or boards are collectively ineffective, nonprofit leaders feel immense pressure.

In late March, Carla had the privilege of moderating a conversation for PhilanthropyMiami with BoardSource CEO Anne Wallestad, knowing her expertise on maximizing board effectiveness would be valuable to local nonprofit leaders.

Our discussion started with a reflection on Anne’s recently published essay, “The Four Principles of Purpose-Driven Board Leadership”. Featured in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, Anne’s article begins with a few findings about the behavior of boards and CEOs from BoardSource’s “Leading with Intent” study.

  • Preoccupation with fundraising above all else: 70% of CEOs rated fundraising as “very important”, above other categories of board performance (18 were measured)
  • Disconnected from the communities and people they serve:  49% of CEOs said they did not have the right board members to “establish trust with the communities they serve”
  • Ill-informed about the ecosystems in which the organization is operating: 25% of boards say “knowledge of the organization’s work or field” is a high priority in board recruitment
  • Lacking in racial and ethnic diversity:  78% of board members are white and 19% of boards are all white
Given these realities, the team at BoardSource encourages nonprofit leaders to consider a new paradigm: “Purpose-Driven Board Leadership”. The central elements of this new thinking include purpose before organization, respect for ecosystem, equity mindset, and authorized voice and power.

As we explored these study insights and the framework of “Purpose-Driven Board Leadership”, our conversation with Anne covered five categories.

  1. Purpose Driven Board Leadership/Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
  2. Our Post-COVID reality
  3. Board Recruitment
  4. Board Engagement/Mutual Accountability
  5. Board Structure and Governance Practices
A few takeaways from the session which we will apply immediately to our client work and to our own volunteer board service:
  • To ensure that our board teams are truly representative of the communities served, we need to be asking different questions around board nominations and recruitment. Value to the organization is not only denominated in dollars raised; the trust of and connection to the community served is of incalculable value.
  • To help our board members fully deliver on our organizational purpose, we need to provide them with personalized action items. Within the context of the broad roles a board member will play (brand ambassador, advocate, business developer, community builder), no two board members bring the same assets or networks to our team.
  • To honor the promises we make to the communities we serve, we need to provide more issue education to our board members. Becoming the strategic entity we need our board to be requires them to understand the facts on the ground and our work in response.
Answering these questions can help you and your organization deliver on this new understanding:
  1. Who, if added to your board, brings the trust of and connection to your our constituents?
  2. What are the roles you need your board members to serve and what actions are they each uniquely qualified to take to further your purpose?
  3. How can you improve your board orientation process to become a board education process?
Beyond these strategic considerations, our conversation touched on the role of Board Chair in establishing shared accountability amongst board members, the imperative of a documented director pledge in developing an affirmative commitment to the role, and the importance of a board meeting agenda that accommodates the social and business needs of the group.

Our program was so well received because Anne is so accessible, candid, and caring. She encouraged our participants to view the challenges associated with any board transformation through the lens of the opportunity and advantage that any change presents.

Effective board engagement is really an extension of your organization’s talent management process. You want a highly functioning team that provides mutual accountability, meets clear goals, and represents and inspires your community.

Does your nonprofit need help developing, engaging, or educating your board to advance your mission and deliver on the promises you make to your community? We can help.

Let’s talk and hatch a plan together.