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Fieldstone Alliance: Tools You Can Use e-newsletter
Tools You Can Use

Elephants in the Boardroom:
A Framework for Discussing Board Effectiveness Issues

Resources
Coloring Outside the Box: One Size Does Not Fit All in Nonprofit Governance (4.2MB PDF)
Ten Dimensions That Shape Your Board
(11MB PDF)

Best of the Board Cafe: Hands-on Solutions for Nonprofit Boards
Keeping the Peace: Resolving Conflict in the Boardroom

Resolving Conflict in Nonprofit Organizations

Contents
10 Factors That Influence Board Effectiveness
   1. What kind of role does your board play?
   2. Who drives board activity?
   3. How do you define your community base?
   4. How many people are in your community?
   5. Who should lead your organization?
   6. What are your beliefs about power and authority?
   7. Is your culture more individualistic or community oriented?
   8. Is your culture more task or relationship oriented?
   9. As a group, do you prefer structure or flexibility?
   10. Is decision-making guided by traditions or future trends?

How to Use the Workbook
   Take the board culture assessment
   Frame discussions
   Facilitator's guide
Conclusion

Where to Learn More

 

Photos of authors Kim Sundet Vanderwall and Ellen BenavidesWe thank independent consultants Kim Sundet Vanderwall and Ellen Benavides for writing this issue of Tools You Can Use.

DO YOU SOMETIMES FEEL like your board just isn't quite clicking? That they can’t get the right momentum going? If so, you're not alone. Often, these are symptoms of unspoken assumptions among the board about how they will work together and what needs attention.

Cover of Ten Dimensions That Shape Your BoardThis issue of Tools presents a framework for helping boards quickly identify issues they've needed to discuss but perhaps couldn't put their fingers on. It's based on our new workbook, Ten Dimensions That Shape Your Board, which you can download free from the MAP for Nonprofits web site.

We developed the workbook after studying the experiences of 40 small, cultural, and community-based nonprofits grappling in isolation with board roles and effectiveness. What we heard were stories about the struggle to adopt models that didn't fit given their resources, values, and communities. (The full report, Coloring Outside the Box: One Size Does Not Fit All in Nonprofit Governance, is also available for free at the MAP site.)

In this e-newsletter, we'll give you an overview of the framework and how you can use the workbook in your organization.

10 Factors That Influence Board Effectiveness
Based on our research and experience, the following ten dimensions influence how you approach your work and how this plays out in your boardroom:

1. What kind of role does your board play?
Is it hands-on governing or hands-off? This relates to organizational life stage, size of the organization, and philosophical approach, which impacts the kind of people you attract to serve on the board.

2. Who drives board activity?
Is it primarily the Executive Director, the Board of Directors or a combination of both? This influences how well the board is able to do oversight and use organizational resources wisely.

3. How do you define your community base?
It could be a cultural group (i.e. American Indians), a geographic community (i.e. rural, neighborhood), a group of people experiencing the same condition (i.e. homelessness), or any other descriptor.

4. How many people are in your community?
The size of your community base impacts who you have to draw upon as leaders and how connected they may be to each other and the issues you face.

5. Who should lead your organization?
Do you feel they should come from within your community? Or should your leadership reflect a broad cross-section of people? Beliefs about self-determination and inclusiveness shape your options for recruiting and developing leaders.

6. What are your beliefs about power and authority?
Boards of egalitarian organizations can and should look quite different from boards in hierarchical organizations.

7. Is your culture more individualistic or community oriented?
Is it more important for individuals in your organization/culture to focus on their own responsibilities or to respond on the needs of the community? This dimension influences board focus and attention.

8. Is your culture more task or relationship oriented?
When solving problems, is it more important to figure out the right answer or to maintain good relationships? This influences communication style and preferences for using people’s time.

9. As a group, do you prefer structure or flexibility?
This impacts how you organize yourself to be most productive and keep board members engaged.

10. Is decision-making guided by traditions or future trends?
This influences the age and style of leaders you engage, as well as how you respond and interact with your community.

How to Use the Workbook
Take the board culture assessment
Use the workbook as a tool to guide board discussions. There are no right or wrong answers! We recommend you start by taking the cultural assessment. The assessment helps identify which dimensions are currently the most difficult for you and your board to discuss or are getting in the way of your board's effectiveness. Here's a sample page (for a clearer image, please download the pdf):

Sample page of the Board culture assessment

Frame discussions
Once you've decided which dimensions are of interest to you, turn to the corresponding "closer look" pages to understand where your organization falls on the continuum and what that means. This will help you frame discussions. Here's a sample:

Sample page of an in-depth look at a particular dimension

Facilitator's guide
The workbook is meant to be a tool to spark conversations. Sometimes conversations flow more easily when there is a facilitator to keep things going and focused. Here you'll find complete steps for leading a workshop, coming to consensus on areas for improvement, and getting commitment to action.

Conclusion
Exactly how your board manages its responsibilities will vary according to your organization’s size, experience and values—as well as those of the community you represent. We’ve found that when executive directors and board chairs use the workbook to identify the “elephant in the room,” the result has been a valuable and rare exchange of ideas that can set the stage for strategic planning and action in leading their organization.

Participants in workshops/trainings we’ve led describe the experience as “sparking spirited, but nonadversarial exchanges of ideas and information.” For example, in an African American organization that had been founded by a church elder, the group was finally able to name why it had been so hard to get a handle on their governance role. They all agreed that respect for authority was a high value. As an honored elder, the founding Executive Director was someone to be treated with respect with a capitol "R." Individual board members had been struggling with how to address the Executive Director, where her role as their elder ended and how they could be responsible for providing oversight. Through their discussion, they realized that they were all having the same feelings and that they needed to develop a governance style that ensured proper respect and proper oversight.

Where to Learn More
You can download both the report, Coloring Outside the Box: One Size Does Not Fit All in Nonprofit Governance, and the workbook, Ten Dimensions That Shape Your Board, for free from MAP for Nonprofits web site. A limited number of single hard copies can also be ordered for free by calling 651-647-1216. Multiple copies can be purchased for $5 each.

About the authors

Vanderwall Consulting
www.vanderwallconsulting.com
kim@vanderwallconsulting.com

Kim Sundet Vanderwall is a strategic planning and board development consultant. Most of her clients are small, community-based nonprofit organizations—many based in cultural communities.

Ellen Benavides
benav003@umn.edu
Ellen Benavides
balances her career as an independent consultant with making social issue documentaries and designing/building custom cremation urns.

Related resources

BoardSource
www.boardsource.org

CompassPoint Nonprofit Services
www.compasspoint.org/boardbasics

Free Complete Toolkit for Boards
www.managementhelp.org/boards/boards.htm

Fieldstone Alliance
Free article
"Dealing Effectively with Nonprofit Board Conflicts"

Related books

Cover of Best of the Board Cafe  Cover of Keeping the Peace  Cover of Resolving Conflict in Nonprofit Organizations

Consulting services
Fieldstone Alliance consultants help funders and nonprofits plan and navigate changes. We can help you understand your organization's core capabilities and business model, gain greater understanding of your market and competition, develop criteria to guide strategy decisions, and help you formulate and test strategies. For more information, please contact Sandy Jacobsen at 651.556.4510 or sjacobsen@FieldstoneAlliance.org.

 

Best Regards,

Kim Sundet Vanderwall and Ellen Benavides

February 4, 2009

 

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