Governing in a New Era: Lessons Learned

April 22, 2010

Linda Crompton, President and CEO, BoardSource

The other day, I took part in a discussion about the “lessons learned’ in the nonprofit sector over the past 18 months of financial crisis and tentative recovery.  While of course the events are still too recent and the future too uncertain to draw any absolute conclusions, what follows are some of the observations that seemed to ring true for many of us in the conversation:

1.  That the weaknesses exposed by crisis are ones you already knew were there.  Organizational vulnerabilities that may have existed for years are suddenly exposed.  As the expression goes, Noah started building the Ark before the rain began.  Do a risk assessment and began begin to develop risk mitigation strategies before you actually need them.

2.  The importance of communicating during any kind of crisis cannot be over-emphasized.  Staff concerned about layoffs, a board feeling disengaged, and ignored clients feeling ignored are a recipe for even bigger problems.  Use technology to get information and updates to people on the ground on a continual basis, to prevent rumors and misinformation.

3.  Make the most of the CEO/Chair partnership, but not to the exclusion of the rest of the board.  All-powerful Executive Committees are a thing of the past – these days, all trustees/directors need to be engaged and on deck to help steer through the challenges.

4.  Everyone knows you should have a contingency plan, but how many organizations actually have one? Take the time with your board to identify the steps to be taken if results don’t match projections.  Deliberately contemplate the “impossible” scenario – we’ve seen lots of them actually happen recently.

5.  Finally, it is apparent that organizations with a single source of revenues – particularly if that source is contributed revenues – generally did not do as well in riding out the recent downturn.   Make sure that part of your strategic planning process with the board includes consideration of a more diversified stream of revenues to reduce the dependency on any one stream that might unexpectedly disappear overnight.

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One Response to “Governing in a New Era: Lessons Learned”

  1. Gail Hill Gordon Says:

    As an interested and active Board member oof a not-for-profit in Albany, New York I have been discussing with the CEO and the nfp’s Chair how to better engage the Board. I only recently subscribed to this blog. Have you written anything previously on this subject? Thank you!


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