The Power of Boards
For our last class of the semester, Deb Jospin joined to discuss the role of Boards in leading social entrepreneurial efforts, the stages of board development and the values in having a strong board. As with the other speakers, I asked Deb to begin with her own journey, and she described her early work helping to launch the Corporation for National and Community Service and as the Director of AmeriCorps. She also talked about her work as a consultant, initially as business partners with Shirley Sagawa with whom she co-authored The Charismatic Organization: Eight Ways to Grow a Nonprofit that Builds Buzz, Delights Donors and Energizes Employees (and, as a bonus, in which Playworks is highlighted!)
In turning to her work as a consultant, Deb described her work advising boards across the developmental spectrum – from Founders Board to Governing Board to Institutional Board. She also described her own experiences serving as a board member and trustee and the learnings and insights those opportunities provided. In particular, she talked about the importance of clarity in board roles and creating a culture of belonging and inclusion as critical to building an effective board.
One of the students in the class is in the process of helping to establish a new board for an emerging organization, and it was great to hear Deb talk about the benefits of building a founder’s board as an essential first step and not as something problematic or ‘less-than.’ A founders’ board, Deb explained, can be a way to learn and grow, with board members contributing more meaningfully to the day-to-day work, while offering more forgiving support in the early days when the learning curve is steep. Looking at the different types of board as developmental, all capable of having both functional and dysfunctional versions, presented the students with a more realistic understanding of what it takes to have a board that is an authentic partner in the work. A recurring theme from the course has been that as an organization grows – whether for profit or non, it needs different things, from talent to infrastructure to functional expertise. The board is a critical partner for adding talent to an organization and thus best able to serve the organization if it shifts and grows as the organization does.
Deb summarized the value of having a strong board as:
1. ensuring that the organization has the resources it needs;
2. offering support and advice to the leadership; building credibility;
3. bringing a diversity of experience to the table;
4. opening doors to funders, community leaders, the media, and others; and,
bailing the organization out when (not if) it stumbles.
How much time it takes
The strike is still going on as I write this, and we held class in a hybrid fashion, which is not my favorite. The students who did show up in person and I had a funny end of class, where we all agreed that the semester had gone quickly, and that it felt weird for it to end with just a few of us in person. I had written in my first post about the class that I suspected that in committing to doing this that I would, at some point, have that karaoke feeling where you still have 3 minutes left of the song and you are filled with regret at having decided to get up on stage. I never did. To the contrary, I found writing about the class really helped me to tease out throughlines and themes and contributed to my enjoyment of teaching.
Continuing with the idea of committing publicly to ensure my own accountability, my plan is to write one more ‘blog’ about the students’ final presentations and assessments (scheduled December 14-16) and the class overall as a conclusion, and to include that, along with all the preceding blogs, in a free ebook that I will be publishing on my website. Not sure how long that will take me, but that’s the plan. Many thanks to all of you who have been reading along this semester – I’ve appreciated your comments and notes.
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