Markers For An Open Culture Within Nonprofit Boards

Markers For An Open Culture Within Nonprofit Boards

By Eugene Fram

Board Culture is really about having chemistry that works. Is there transparency, and by that I mean openness? It is very intangible but critical. Is there a spirit of inquiry? That means, for example, that a director can disagree with another director or with the CEO without actually being hostile or being viewed as hostile. All should be able to have civil but active discussions. Does the board have a few really insightful board members who spark real dialog? I’m talking about people who have an ability to smell and “opportunity” or “problem” or “roadblock.’ Do the organization exude creativity – from the CEO and from board members?

Next, are you tapping creativity on your board? Don’t let board culture mold a new director to an expected narrow framework. In other words, don’t have a strong financial manager become involved with the details of the organization’s budget. Instead, use his or her expertise to help develop an intelligent overall financial strategy, which can make an impact on the organization’s future.

Finally, getting to the notion of being insightful – are there board members who know whether the board is dealing with symptoms or causes? For example, do they know cash flow is the problem for the organization, or do they know why cash flow is a problem? Do they know that the top for-profit competitor has introduced something new or do they know why something new (e.g., new demographic trend) is causing internal organizational ripples?

In today’s complex world, nonprofit boards should not be only be focused on outcomes (e.g., success of specific programs) but as concerned more with assessing the “impacts” of those outcomes. For example, in a presentation, Geoffrey Canada, president & CEO of the innovative Harlem Children’s Zone, indicated he wants all the children he motivates to go to college, a program outcome. The impact he wants to achieve is to have some of individuals to return to Harlem to live after their college experiences. Impact is much harder than outcomes to measure because it is something more ambitious.

Source: Policy vs. Paper Clips, Third Edition 2011.

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