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Posted 10/25/2023 in board development by Nancy Bacon

Board Conversations for a New Year

Board Conversations for a New Year

On any pre-pandemic day, there were board members serving any nonprofit that might benefit from a clearer sense of their role. Three years of Zoom meetings challenged the best run organizations, and now a constant refrain among the nonprofits I work with is the need for effective, practice-changing board education.

The research backs up the need. In a recent BoardSource webinar, the speakers cited conclusions from a recent survey:

  • Board members are disconnected from the communities and people they serve.
  • They are ill-informed about the ecosystems in which they operate.
  • Boards lack in racial and ethnic diversity.
  • Boards are pre-occupied with fundraising above all else.

Board education is most effective right now when it intentionally addresses two kinds of learners: those serving for the first time and veteran board members who think they know the job and yet are leading when circumstances have changed. (I’m drawing from the 5 Moments of Need by Bob Mosher and Conrad Gottfredson, also explained here.) Board service heading into 2024 is not even the same as board service 2019! We’ve tossed “best practice” out the window because it reflects none of the nuance that comes from authentic leadership based within communities, exercised by diverse people, informed by societal shifts, and occupied with the real task of governance.

There is a lot to know and do related to boards, but time is short. Here are the four conversations every board should be having as we go into 2024:

Purpose: What role does our organization play within our community and the larger ecosystem? (What does leadership look like if we put purpose first?)
People: Who can ensure that we fulfill that role and govern our organization with accountability to the people we serve? 
Culture: How do our board members work together and with others so everyone is valued and feels a sense of belonging?
Focus: What are the conversations of consequence that our board needs to focus on?

Think of a board that you know: which of these questions should that board focus on?

More on boards

Sarah Brooks and I focused on boards for three Nonprofit Radio Show episodes. Take a listen, and remember to subscribe!

Well-functioning boards: Ideas for board members

Well-functioning boards: Ideas for staff members

My boards members won’t…


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