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Governance Boards in 2021 Will Be More Just, Engaged, and Transparent

Anne Wallestad’s article, The Four Principles of Purpose-Driven Board Leadership, is an important and timely reflection on the purpose and functions of nonprofit boards.

The article, published in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, argues that “in the face of increasingly pressing systemic inequities, nonprofit boards must change the traditional ways they have worked and instead prioritize an organization's purpose, show respect for the ecosystem in which they operate, commit to equity, and recognize that power must be authorized by the people they're aiming to help.” 

Wallestad’s points address a critical need for reevaluating the way that boards function to make them more effective in the present moment. Over time, a board may unintentionally transfer authority away and take a posture of “rubber-stamping” versus leading. COVID19 has renewed the role of boards and called upon their talents to navigate a once-in-a-lifetime public health crisis. 

Currently, many boards face a variety of challenges including disconnection from target communities, lack of racial and ethnic diversity, and too much preoccupation with fundraising, as Wallestad mentioned. In a time where accountability for social justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion should be made a priority, these oversights are not acceptable. If you were to query board chairs and executive committee members of leading nonprofit boards they would likely point to these issues as top of mind and key to their succession planning. 

For others, the transformation and rapidly changing environment are causing unanticipated board turnover and abrupt succession planning. Culture clashes are being navigated as the cultures are reset.  All of this is part of building a modern-day governance system that will endure and better serve the needs of the organization. 

Will this governance transformation impede a nonprofit organization from scaling or meeting its vision? 

Wallestad says: no. In fact, she thinks boards have the potential to be redesigned and reimplemented to provide real value.

The way forward, according to Wallestad, is Purpose-Driven Leadership. She addresses four vital shifts in value that can change how boards operate to truly provide Purpose-Driven Leadership:

  1. Purpose Before Organization
  2. Respect for Ecosystem
  3. Equity Mindset
  4. Authorized Voice and Power

Each of these concepts, which are all explained in-depth in the article, can help boards serve their purpose in this new decade by expanding the definition of what it means to not just be a leader but to serve communities.

STRATA9 supports mission-driven organizations looking to reach their next level of performance. We facilitate new paths for board members to become more conscious of and connected with the communities they serve, more cognizant of the entire ecosystem affected by their work, and more responsible with their power and influence. We understand that in many cases volunteer boards balance many responsibilities and their development should build trust and promote camaraderie. One size does not fit all, and we look to and partner with leading practices and professionals when customizing a plan to meet the needs of the board. For more information about our services, visit our website or read our insights.  

To learn more about Wallestad’s reflections on nonprofit boards and her vision for the way forward, read the full article here.