Earlier this summer, BoardSource released Leading with Intent: BoardSource Index of Nonprofit Board Practices, its tenth study of nonprofit board governance.
Leading with Intent tracks and analyzes trends in nonprofit board leadership by surveying nonprofit chief executives and board chairs, which often creates unique insights into how each group perceives the work of leading a nonprofit organization. We often refer to Leading with Intent when working with our clients because the data, analysis, and findings are tremendously helpful in understanding board governance best practices and are useful for benchmarking organizations against national data.
There are four key findings in the report:
- Boards are disconnected from the communities and people they serve.
- Boards that prioritize fundraising above all else when it comes to the board’s role do so at the expense of organizational strategy, relevance, and impact.
- Boards and executives should reflect on what is prioritized in terms of board expectations and how time is spent.
- The board chair’s leadership in ensuring that there are clear expectations of board service seems to matter most when it comes to the board’s overall culture.
In short, our summary is that boards need clear expectations and chief executives need highly engaged boards.
Our team often says that the single most important relationship in a nonprofit organization is the relationship between the chief executive and board, and the second most important relationship is among board members themselves.
One of the best ways to ensure boards are engaged and connected is to think strategically about how time is used in committee meetings, board meetings, and communications. One of the tables in the report (pictured below) is a compilation of how chief executives perceive the use of board time. Their biggest criticism is not enough time spent on fundraising.
We could say that not enough time spent on fundraising is an oft over-used refrain, but we must consider this data point in the context of Leading with Intent’s second finding — that organizations who put too much emphasis on board fundraising “do so at the expense of organizational strategy, relevance, and impact.”
Overall, it is clear that not enough time is spent on strategic conversations. Leading with Intent asked about the board’s impact on defining strategic priorities and the results are dismal.
Additionally, the report states, “those boards that lean toward strategic engagement receive higher ratings of board performance than those that lean more towards operational engagement.”
Shifting the structure of board meetings to a more strategic focus is one of the most intentional decisions you can make. Start by exploring the following questions:
- Does your board spend the majority of its time on the past?
- Is the board agenda overwhelmingly about report outs and past activity, whether financial or programmatic?
- What if you adjust the agenda to dive into strategic matters at every board meeting?
- What ideas and engagement would be created if you spent one hour thinking about how to better connect with, and build relationships with, the community your organization serves?
Can you envision the transformation that could happen if you re-imagine how you use board time? When the focus is on strategic direction, the overall culture and work of the board improves, which means that the organization has what it needs to fulfill its mission.
We encourage you to review the entire Leading with Intent report as there is much to be gleaned. We also encourage you to share it with your board and assign the four findings as a strategic topic at your next board meeting. We promise you will gain new insights and deepen board engagement.
Next week, we will explore the companion report, Leading with Intent: Reviewing the State of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion on Nonprofit Boards.
Article by: Kerri Laubenthal Mollard, Founder & CEO