Identify problems, their root causes and what can be done to solve them: that's the sum and substance of the Board Leadership Project, a tool developed by Governance Matters to help nonprofit boards meet challenges and make changes.
It is a reality-based, practical series of tasks, not a compendium of academic theories about how things "should" work. It is a tool with which each nonprofit develops solutions that fit its size and shape.
Three concepts distinguish the philosophy of the Board Leadership Project:
- Leadership comes from every seat on the board, not just from the board chair. Tools are provided for every board member, as well as the board chair and executive director.
- One-size does not fit all. Each board reflects the culture, age, size and skill-needs of the organization it serves. Not only does the "look" of a board vary from agency to agency; it varies from year to year within the same agency. It isn't how the board looks that counts; it's whether the board is effective for that organization at that point in time.
- Debate, disagreement and discussion are good; they make change happen. To the extent that people voice their opinions and feel part of the process, they are motivated to work on the solution. Moreover, diverse viewpoints lead to better solutions. The Board Leadership Tool provides questions for discussion. The answers are up to the users.
The Board Leadership Tool Kit can be used to avoid problems from the start as well as to help your nonprofit deal with an existing problem. The sections on board recruitment and establishing an effective board culture, for example, can be either preventative or remedial.
Accessing the tools is simple: Click through the problem descriptions. When you have that "aha moment," when you recognize your board, that's when you move on to the "Root Causes" and "What You Can Do" sections.
Each sub-section leads to specific questions and actions that every member of the leadership team -- board member, board chair, executive director -- can initiate.
Common problems, such as "deadwood" on the board, conflicts within the board, conflicts with the executive director, and dealing with change are addressed.
The solutions are practical, not theoretical; flexible, not one-size-fits-all. For example, the "answer" to deadwood -- board members who contribute little -- is not "get rid of them." Instead, you are given tools to find out why board members are not participating, how to deal with the causes of non-participation and, perhaps, convert lackluster performers into stellar board members.
The tools are backed by serious research and, literally, hundreds of years of collective experience. The Board Leadership Team-- most of whom are long-time consultants for nonprofits -- conducted in-depth interviews with the leaders of successful organizations. The interviews focused on how problems are dealt with in the real world. That information, along with the experience of the team members, informed the design and content of this on-line self-help center.
Anyone interested in effective nonprofit governance will be interested in the tools offered by the Board Leadership Tool Kit: They're simple, effective and free.