The Board Leadership Project was developed to encourage more active leadership on and by nonprofit boards. We wanted to explore why some boards and individual members step up to take the lead at times of change, and why others do not. How do boards create a culture of leadership, and what prepares board members to play a leadership role?
The intention of this product is to serve as a resource for board members who find themselves in one of the types of transitions or challenges described, and who want to "do the right thing" but do not know what exactly to do.
The members of the project designed a research study to identify and describe the practices that nonprofit boards have used to develop, motivate, train, and sustain board leaders. The research strategy was based on the assumption that leadership is most apparent at times of transition or crisis, such as:
- the early stages of organizational development,
- transition from a founder/executive director or long-time board chair,
- the need to respond to major new initiative from external sources/conditions, and/or
- to implement the decisions of an internal planning process.
Leadership was operationally defined as the actions, skills and qualities of board members that enable organizations to successfully meet these challenges:
- engaging the mission of the organization,
- mobilizing action to further the mission,
- helping the organization adapt to changing circumstances,
- identifying opportunities for change and growth, and/or
- creating future leaders.
The team then asked a variety of sources, including umbrella organizations, technical assistance providers, funders and academics, to identify New York nonprofits whose boards demonstrated this type of leadership.
Out of the 50 organizations recommended, 15 were selected and interviewed by Governance Matters volunteers. Based on the findings, a series of hypotheses about board leadership were developed. To further test and refine the hypotheses, the project scheduled three focus groups with participating executive directors and board leaders.
A capstone team from New York University then reviewed the case studies and identified those that best exemplified board leadership as it was defined. This team also conducted a literature review to determine gaps in the literature related to this topic.
Concurrently, a group of Governance Matters members was convened to discuss their experience with board leadership at times of crisis (particularly during times of leadership succession) and outline effective steps to develop the board culture.
Finally, the Board Leadership Project Team took all of the material that had been collected and added their own experiences to produce the final products.
Click here for Acknowledgements