by Sharon Danosky
In early March, Anne Wallestad, President and CEO of BoardSource published an article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review titled the Four Principles of Purpose-Driven Boards (see link below). While the title is unassuming, the content is not. The principles are:
- Purpose Before Organization
- Respect for Ecosystem
- An Equity Mindset
- Authorized Voice and Power
What she is forecasting is a ripple effect leading to a sea change – one that has been in motion long before COVID-19 hit. COVID-19, the murder of George Floyd, the vast economic and social disparities on display during the pandemic and the devaluation of essential workers has collectively exacerbated, accelerated and amplified inequities in our systems and shone a spotlight on the work we all need to do.
The traditional view of nonprofits and board service — an emphasis on fundraising; organizational rather than community perspective; focus on size and market share, or counting people served instead of impact as a measure of success — is out of sync with the lived realities of many of the communities we are meant to serve. Instead, a community-based approach to service, more participatory and equitable philanthropy, greater representation and collaboration rather than competition are not just new models of service, they represent how our society and sector is changing. While nonprofits are shifting their framework, the question is whether boards are keeping pace with this shift or still functioning in a model which is fast becoming antiquated.
- Do board members have the knowledge and been provided a lens through which they can evaluate the services their nonprofit provides?
- Is the board comprised of community members and are the voices of people with lived experiences being heard at every meeting and with every decision made?
- What is the Board’s role in fundraising, and is it aligned with objectives around community inclusion or fall back to the give, get or get off model which sidesteps community participation?
- Does the board engage in meaningful discussions, such as who does the nonprofit serve and who is falling through the cracks? Do they have the data and demographics to make good decisions and the context in which to make them?
These represent significant shifts in how we will be experiencing board service moving forward. They especially come into play as new board members are being recruited, and the composition and structure of the board is being considered.
I had the privilege of moderating a webinar a couple of week ago for the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven and the Valley Community Foundation, with a panel comprised of younger men and women of color, from local communities, sharing their experiences on various boards. I couldn’t help but notice that the conversation didn’t discuss radical changes, but important nuanced changes in terms of how we look at the board experience. For example, the importance of the Board Chair applying a racial equity framework, recruiting practices that don’t rely on a matrix but encourage a good dialogue about the nonprofit’s purpose and values, an agenda that is not about Robert’s Rules of Order but instead promotes relevant discussion around strategy.
Navigating these changes will not be easy, but it is essential. The issues and problems in our society — from childhood poverty, to housing, food insecurity, inequitable pay, domestic violence, climate change, environmental justice and more — will not stand still. It will require that we bring our best, most representative and inclusive selves together to address them. Boards should not shy away from difficult conversations, but create space at every board meeting where they can be held.