Spotlight on Governance…and Communication
January 2014 has brought to our attention several thoughtful pieces about how nonprofit boards can prepare themselves for the year ahead.
In the Chronicle of Philanthropy this week, an opinion article by attorney Michael Peregrine identifies nine trends challenging boards to bring their “A” game to an increasingly demanding nonprofit playing field. Accountability is a common theme across several of his observed trends, highlighting the importance of the board’s fiduciary oversight role in view of increased scrutiny being directed toward the sector. He also emphasizes the board’s role in developing strategy, not only in the context of ongoing strategic planning, but also in encouraging their organizations to set more ambitious goals or make some potentially game-changing big bets.
Earlier this month, The Nonprofit Quarterly reprinted a piece in which consultant Simone Joyaux uses the question “What do you talk about at board meetings?” to challenge boards to train their focus squarely on their governance role and avoid the temptation of engaging in less-than-critical conversations and activities. She suggests a practical way of troubleshooting the potential crises or scandals that Peregrine’s article alludes to, which is to reserve a space on every board meeting agenda to raise “red flags” or “rusty nails.” Like Peregrine, she also highlights strategic questions that boards should be asking themselves to ensure that the organization stays on top of emerging trends and is prepared to respond creatively, nimbly, and effectively.
These two examples both call out the need for boards to be vigilant in their oversight role and actively engaged in strategic thinking, each of which is critical to protecting the organization’s integrity and keeping it at the leading edge in an increasingly competitive nonprofit landscape. And yet all of this depends on — it demands — strong board/staff communication.
The effective sharing, communication, and analysis of information is the fulcrum upon which the rest of a board’s performance hinges. Our technology-enabled information economy poses as many opportunities for more effective communication as it presents challenges: we have more tools at our disposal to share information, but less bandwidth to filter, absorb, and give thought to this information to turn it into decisions, actions, and results.
As nonprofit boards take stock of their priorities for the coming year, we suggest lifting up communication as an area to examine. Some questions to consider include:
- How effective are the vehicles/channels currently being used to share information between the staff and board?
- How effectively are the messages/content presented – do they truly inform the level of deliberation, decisions, or action required?
- How does the frequency of communication support and enable the board to do its best work?
- How flexible are the organization’s communications systems and habits in allowing new and/or unexpected information or points of view to be heard?
- How effectively does the board use (i.e. absorb, analyze, deliberate on, and act upon) the information it is provided?
Do you have other questions to add? Please share your experience and insights in the comments below.