Is Your Board Suitable for the Time?

Many nonprofit boards are populated by seniors. They have experience, talent, time, contacts, and money. In the past, that was the formula for the perfect board member. Perhaps its is time to redefine the perfect board member.

In a rapidly changing world, leaders must be agile. Success used to mean finding the right process and continuously refining it. Now survival depends on agility and a willingness to evolve. Today, it is impractical to design, test, and perfect a process before introducing it. Now is the time to try new ideas and perfect them while they are being scaled to serve a growing demand. The old ways must sometimes be abandoned before the new ways can be tested.

Evolution, rather than structured change, means giving the staff the latitude to design and implement changes without waiting for a formal review, carefully constructed plan, and cautious implementation. The board must give up control and be satisfied with writing policy and trusting the judgement of the staff. That is hard to do when the previous process has been successful for so many years. Today, those who know what is best and the best way to do it are those closest to the clients.

In the past, almost every nonprofit was designed like a factory. The clients were one of the elements in a regimented process. Each client received the same services. Today, in our infinitely customized culture, very few clients receive the same services. The goal today is to provide each client with exactly what they need for success. Consistent success is the measure rather than consistent services.

In the past, the process was trusted because it was consistent. It was unnecessary to track statistics because client success was the client’s responsibility. Today, nonprofits are in partnership with their clients and share responsibility with the clients for success. Therefore, donors and the community want statistics that demonstrate the nonprofit is fulfilling its responsibilities. In addition, there must be statistics that show growing effectiveness (more clients must be successful each year).

In the past, treating the problem was enough (feeding the hungry for example). Today, nonprofits must aspire to at least cure the problem. It is even better when nonprofits aim to prevent the problem.

In the past, information consistently came from a handful of sources. Today, new sources of critical information are constantly emerging. Those sources must be found and used.

In the past, it was possible to let other organizations lead. They incubated new ideas and proved they worked (created best practices for everyone). It was possible to have a high level of sustainability while following the leaders. Today, everyone must gather information from unique sources, combine it in unique ways, and uniquely implement it. Leading rather than following is the way to thrive. Now even the leaders must struggle to be highly sustainable.

Next Step:

Limit board membership to those who are ready for tomorrow regardless of their experience, knowledge, contacts, etc.

Commit to teaching your board what they need to know about your nonprofit, its business model, and its marketplace as well as what makes it unique

Create a culture that supports being a leading innovator

Challenge your board to think broadly and deeply

In the past, boards often limited their decision making to yes or no on the proposal in front of them. Today, boards must consider multiple options. The future is fluid. There are several ways forward. Therefore, the board must guide rather than direct.

The stakeholders need to know where the nonprofit is going rather than what path it will take. Your mission tells the world what problem your nonprofit will solve. Your vision tells the world what it will look like when the problem is solved. When your board breaks your vision into discrete goals, your staff will have the guidance it needs to drive your nonprofit forward. It will also have the flexibility it needs to respond to our changing world. The staff success must be measured by its progress toward the goals rather than the process used to reach the goals.

Take It Further:

Ask your board development committee to recruit members who have demonstrated their ability to be the agile and innovative leaders your nonprofit needs


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