Effective Stewardship

Many nonprofit boards need to reimagine their roles. When they took on the leadership of the nonprofits, they agreed to become the stewards of the nonprofits. For some boards, stewardship means maintain the status quo. They aim to sustain the current level of effectiveness and efficiency. Those boards have limited their role to that of a troubleshooter. They focus on fixing what is broken or wrong and letting the rest continue undisturbed. In an ever-changing world, that results in a decline in sustainability.

The best boards believe that being a good steward means handing the mission off to the next group of leaders in better condition than they found it. They see the mission as being on loan to them. They hold themselves responsible for improving the value of one of their community’s precious assets – rather than maintaining what they were loaned. Their goal is to pass on a healthy mission with healthy resources so the next leaders can do even more for the community.

Some of the ways the better boards think about strengthening their nonprofits before handing them off are increasing financial strength, the relevance of the missions, sustainability, the number of clients served, the number of clients who achieve success, community support, stakeholder engagement, the missions’ value to the communities, and donor loyalty, engagement, and generosity.

It is unlikely that a board will be able to increase strength in all seven areas. Therefore, it must have a vision for the future and think carefully about what the next step is on the path to vision fulfillment. Once it can identify the next step forward, it is relatively easy to determine which strengths will be most beneficial. Defining the next step in quantifiable terms makes it easy to determine how much strength is needed in each area. When each successive board takes this approach, your nonprofit will enjoy a growing level of strength in all areas and a competitive advantage in important areas like attracting talent (staff, board, and other volunteers), fundraising, and serving clients.

Next Step:

Teach your board members to think about the legacy they are leaving rather than the most recent problem or challenge

Help your board create a vision for your mission, clients, and community

Lay a foundation for your nonprofit’s next step by creating the strengths that will facilitate the step

Preview the vision, the step, and strengths needed with your stakeholders to ensure your nonprofit has the support it needs to be successful

Regardless of the value and logic behind your vision, steps, or strengths, it is important to check with your stakeholders. Since your nonprofit is in partnership with your stakeholders, it makes sense to preview every major decision with them to increase the sustainability of their support.. It is easy to assume stakeholders will agree with the value, logic, and strengths. However, it is necessary to preview them to ensure you are presenting them in ways that will engage the stakeholders and increase their support. are appropriate, A great plan without inspired support will struggle.

A collateral benefit of focusing on building strengths is that mission effectiveness and operational efficiency increase without any direct effort or attention from the board. The focus on strengths also keeps the board from being distracted by operational issues or micromanaging issues. With the focus on strengths, the staff reports and community reports become focused on the issues that affect strength development, which helps to keep the board’s focus on the areas of greatest value to the future of your nonprofit and its sustainability.

Take It Further:

Add a budget line item that will support the strength building (strength building is an investment in the future of your mission and it creates a valuable asset – donors like to know what they are paying for)

Charge your board development committee with building the strength of your board, the fundraising committee with building the strength of your donor base and non-board volunteers, and your personnel and program committees with building the strength of your staff


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