Sometimes I hear something that hits me just right, and it takes days to get it out of my head. This happened on Tuesday during the Fox West Philanthropic Network’s Philanthropy Day luncheon. The keynote speaker, Dani Robbins, was talking about the different modes of board governance and the importance of facilitating more strategic and generative discussions in the boardroom. Doing so will result in a more engaged board.
Easy as that! Right?
Well, that little voice inside my head started screaming at me. It was saying, “Whoaaaaa! Can strategic and generative discussions be done with any old board members? Or does it take a certain type of board volunteer?”
So, I raised my hand and interrupted Dani’s keynote address. (Sorry, Dani!)
I was half expecting her to say that everyone is capable of engaging in these higher order discussions. I was also expecting her to put the responsibility back on the person(s) who facilitate those boardroom discussions to get the most out of the diversity of people sitting around the table.
However, I got an unexpected answer.
Dani suggested that board volunteers who are “strategic thinkers” will have an easier time making the transition from traditional fiduciary modes of governance to more strategic and generative modes.
I suspect this means for many non-profit organizations, who want to make this adjustment to governance, that some thought needs to be put into adding more strategic thinkers to their board recruitment prospects lists.
Once I arrived at this conclusion, I got a mental picture of a committee meeting with board governance volunteers going through their prospect identification and evaluation exercises focused on finding strategic thinkers. As this mental picture became clearer, lots of questions flooded into my head including:
- What does a strategic thinker look and sound like?
- Where do strategic thinkers live, work and play?
- How easy will it be for board governance committees to do this work, especially when most committees (in my experience) shortcut the cultivation and evaluation process and go straight from identification to recruitment?
As I normally do when issues like this start bothering me, I open up my internet browser and go to Google. 😉
I quickly found myself reading a post on CEB Blogs titled “5 Characteristics of Strategic Thinkers“. Here are those characteristics:
- Open yourself to perspectives from multiple sources
- Incorporate both logic and emotion into your thinking
- Seek options beyond today’s reality
- Question both the familiar and the to-be-determined
- Accept open issues
If you’re scratching your head while reading this list and asking “what does THAT mean,” then click the link and read the CEB Blog post. It really is quite good. If you want to learn more, then I suggest you start Googling around. 😉 You also might want to click here and start with this interesting Wikipedia page on strategic thinking.
Let me bottom line what I’m thinking for you this morning.
- This isn’t as simple as changing some of the criteria in your gap assessment tool
- These characteristics are more subtle than questions of age, gender, ethnicity, occupation, fundraising experience, etc
- Only people who know or work closely with board prospects know whether or not they are strategic thinkers, which puts a spotlight on who is serving on your board governance committee
- Identifying strategic thinkers for your board recruitment process will require more time spent cultivating and evaluating prospects and less jumping straight from identification to recruitment
What is standing in your agency’s way of transforming its boardroom discussions from fiduciary to more strategic and generative modes of governance? What are you doing to over come those obstacles? Is your board governance committee approaching its job differently when it considers this question? If so, how?
Please use the comment box below to share your thought and experiences. We can all learn from each other.
Here’s to your health!
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC
Dani Robbins is the Founder & Principal Strategist at Non Profit Evolution located in Columbus, Ohio. I’ve invited my good friend and fellow non-profit consultant to the first Wednesday of each month about board development related topics. Dani also recently co-authored a book titled “Innovative Leadership Workbook for Nonprofit Executives” that you can find on Amazon.com.
Governance: The Work of the Board, part 5
Setting the Mission, Vision and Strategic Plan
By Dani Robbins
Welcome to the final post in our five-part series on Governance. We have already discussed the Board’s role in Hiring, Supporting and Evaluating the Executive, Acting as the Fiduciary Responsible Agent, Setting Policy, and Raising Money. Today, let’s discuss the Board’s role in setting the mission, vision and strategic plan.
As previously mentioned, Boards are made up of appointed community leaders, who are collectively responsible for governing an organization. As outlined in my favorite Board book Governance as Leadership and summarized in The Role of the Board, the Fiduciary Mode is where governance begins for all boards and ends for too many. I encourage you to also explore the Strategic and Generative Modes of Governance, which will greatly improve your board’s engagement, and also their enjoyment.
At a minimum, governance includes:
- Setting the Mission, Vision and Strategic Plan,
- Hiring, Supporting and Evaluating the Executive Director,
- Acting as the Fiduciary Responsible Agent,
- Raising Money, and
- Setting Policy.
One of my goals for this blog is to rectify the common practice in the field of people telling non-profit executives and boards how things should be done without any instruction as to what that actually means or how to accomplish it.
What “Board members being responsible for setting the mission, vision and strategic plan” means is:
The Board sets –meaning discusses and votes to adopt or revise — the mission statement, which answers why your organizations exist.
The Board also sets the vision of the organization. A vision statement is a description of what the organization will look like at a specified time, usually 3-5 years, in the future. There are two minds in the field as to if a vision statements should be a Utopian view such as “an end to hunger” or a more concrete view such as “to be the premier youth development organization.” I lean toward the latter; I find it challenging to set goals to get to Utopia.
The Board votes upon the strategic plan, after participating in a strategic planning process “in which the board, staff, and select constituents decide the future direction of an organization and allocate resources, including people, to ensure that target goals are reached. Having a board-approved, staff-involved strategic plan that includes effective measurements and the allocation of resources aligns the organization, provides direction to all levels of staff and board, and defines the path for the future of the organization. It also allows leadership, both board and staff, to reject divergent paths that will not lead to the organization’s intended destination.” (Innovative Leadership Workbook for Nonprofit Executives)
The process — and the document — can be very long or very short. In fact, I have a new theory that the longer strategic plan is, the less likely it is to be used. For my clients, I recommend a 4-5 meeting process: We start with setting or revising values, vision and mission and end with assignments, measurements and due dates.
Please do not accept a plan that does not include assignments, measurements and due dates. If you cannot answer the question “How will we know when we get there?” you will not get there. A plan without measurements, assignments and due dates is just a list of goals that are unlikely to be accomplished.
For information on what should be included in the process, please click here.
A strategic plan should be a living document that guides the organization and provides a point for ongoing programmatic and organizational evaluation. It should not sit on a shelf.
All organizations should have a strategic plan.
Strategic plans get everyone on same page as to where you are as an organization and where you are going. They allow the group to decide the goals moving forward; create measurements to determine if you met your goals and assign responsibility and due dates for specific goals.
Strategic planning is a process that results in not only a document but also a shared understanding among key stakeholders.
In the absence of that shared understanding and agreement, there are still moving parts, but they’re not aligned. The absence of a plan sets the stage for people to do what they feel is best, sometimes without enough information, which may or may not be right for the organization. It opens the door for one person’s vision to get implemented and others to feel unheard or unengaged. The absence of a plan allows for major decisions to be made on the fly and for potentially mission driven decisions to be compromised. As we all know, movement goes in other directions than forward.