Those who want to "heal the planet, feed the hungry and make life better for people in an evolving world" are the "leaders we have been waiting for," according to Bob Edgar, president of Common Cause and a keynote speaker, at the Stepping Up Matters Conference sponsored by Governance Matters, VCG and BoardSource.
Change comes not from government but from the passionate people -- activists -- who form nonprofits and who recognize the changing nature of the world in which we live, he said, adding that "None of the people who changed history had a majority." Leadership comes from the bottom up. In all great religions, he pointed out, change came from "a courageous remnant of people, a small group of people who make a difference."
He urged nonprofit leaders to revitalize their organizations, not by focusing on debt and deficits but by focusing on vision and mission. When the world changes, organizations must change with it. Organizations may think they have a financial problem but, Edgar said, it is more often a vision and mission problem: The mission must be re-calibrated to a changing world.
Edgar had some practical pointers for putting his philosophy into effect.
All board members should have two of the following four attributes:
Board members must have "ownership" of the organization's outcomes, not just the ability to contribute money, he said. Weed people off the board who cannot let go of their own agendas.
Boards need diversity in backgrounds, in skills, in age, and in geography. A good board will have people who question everything or, as Edgar said, "have their noses in and their fingers out." If the organization is moving in the wrong direction, the board should change the chief executive officer rather than micro-manage.
The board nominating committee must exercise "tough love," Edgar said. People should not be accepted on the board just because they volunteer. Board members must be chosen on the basis of the value they bring to the organization.
Creating a non-governing group -- an advisory board or president's council -- with many members and few requirements for membership provides multiple benefits:
- An advisory board can be a testing ground to vet people for the governing board.
- Advisory board members critique projects and actions, and provide new insights.
- More than half the members of such boards make financial contributions to the organization.
- Members of advisory boards add value to an organization by "talking it up."
Movements vs. organizations
One of the ways the world is changing is that people are joining movements, not organizations, Edgar said. Organizations are the engines that drive movements but to be part of a movement, organizations must partner with others. That requires "ego disarmament:" The institution must be able to collaborate without being focused only on who gets credit.
To sum up, Edgar quoted Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.:
"We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today ... In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time ... The tide in the affairs of men does not remain at flood -- it ebbs ...We still have a choice today: nonviolent coexistence or violent co-annihilation."
... and, Edgar added, those who work to create nonviolent coexistence, to create community are "the leaders we have been waiting for."
For a summary of Reynold Levy's keynote presentation, Embrace Your Mission, Then Sell It,click here.