Musings Upon Re-Entry

December 14, 2010

Linda Crompton, President and CEO, BoardSource

A month later, and my head is still swimming from this year’s BoardSource Leadership Forum in San Francisco. It was an exhilarating experience…if you were there, I hope you agree; if not…here are some of my thoughts as I’ve returned to “real life” at my desk in Washington.

As I wrote in my last entry, I wish I could have been in at least three places at once during most of the two days to absorb the nonstop energy, enthusiasm, and exchange of ideas. Thank you to all our presenters for sharing your knowledge and expertise with us. I also wish I could write a transcript of the whole conference here, but I’ll content myself with some highlights from our keynote speakers.

Carol Larson, president and CEO of the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, kicked us off with the five things nonprofits must have to succeed: a relentless focus on mission; an embrace of a culture of inquiry and learning; openness to innovative solutions all the time; willingness to take risks; and willingness to engage in new levels of collaboration. Our luncheon keynote speaker, Angela Glover Blackwell, founder and CEO of PolicyLink, exhorted us with a simple message that had enormous weight and impact, as simple messages often do: lead with equity. No matter what our function in the sector, no matter our mission, no social change will ever truly be accomplished unless we put equity first and commit to imbuing all our planning and programs with that focus. The room was rapt as she shared a childhood story of watching her father confront blatant racism. Our final keynote speaker, Patrick Corvington, CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service, spoke passionately about the role of volunteerism in civil life and echoed Angela’s call for equity. He said volunteers should come from all ethnic groups and backgrounds, the same clarion call we’ve been sounding for the boardroom.

At last year’s BoardSource Leadership Forum, we introduced the concept of “transformative governance” and I have been thinking and writing about it ever since. I was gratified that at this year’s BoardSource Leadership Forum, speakers and attendees were talking about it and helping me flesh out how boards can transform their organizations through governance practices that take into account all the rapid societal changes that are whirling around us. Governance cannot be practiced in a vacuum! In particular, boards must be aware of the new types of organizations that are emerging and decide how they want to react to them.

These new entities were detailed in a paper called “The Emerging Fourth Sector” by the Aspen Institute, with the support of the Kellogg Foundation. The Kellogg paper suggests there are tremendous social, economic, and environmental benefits to be gained as corporations expand beyond their traditional duties to shareholders and customers to embrace corporate social responsibility, socially responsible investing, and community investment, among many others. As nonprofits begin adopting more income earnings strategies, experimenting with marketing, looking at more collaboration, we see foundations undertaking PRIs and MRIs (the latter is mission-related investments; so far foundations have not begun radiographic analysis of their grantees) and emphasizing impact and measurement.

This convergence or emergence of a potentially whole new sector has enormous implications for all of us. Do we just observe from the sidelines as this whole new field of hybrid organizations geared to social and sustainable enterprise takes shape? Or, should we play a role in helping to design the whole new ecosystem that is unfolding? The responsibility for considering these questions and grappling with the answers ultimately falls to the board and executive of the organization – those responsible for governance. Where will your board be? In the game, or simply watching it play out?

Corrected text: 12-21-2010


7 Responses to “Musings Upon Re-Entry”

  1. Tom Bayer Says:

    Organizations, whether non-profit, government, or business, should absolutely focus on contingency planning and succession planning. Opportunities arise, and changes occur quickly, so the ability of an organization to take advantage of these opportunities, is what will set them apart. If you are an organization that has key employees that are so vital in the short-term, deferred compensation programs where they vest in the benefits after being employed for a period of time can also be an effective strategy for retention.

  2. Pat Smith Says:

    Interesting post. Organizations know they “should” have an executive succession plan, but you are right very few do. When working with boards I always try to get them to commit to developing one. Right now in our community there are about six long term ED’s retiring, being nudged out or taking other positions and each organization is starting from square one.

  3. Aileen Meyer Says:

    Thanks for posting the silver lining in the NPR story and recognizing their effective succession planning strategy.

  4. Berit Lakey Says:

    Response to the February Report, Transformative Governance:
    I think the piece does a disservice to the notion of Transformative Governance by describing transparency as essentially sharing the good news rather than a willingness to recognize both the good news and the news that are not so good. Also, I don’t think it is correct to state that board discussions are confidential – only discussions conducted in executive sessions can be categorically described as confidential. Association members would be up in arms at the notion of all board discussions being confidential, and what about the many boards where senior staff often sit in on board meetings?

  5. Thanks for writing, Julia. I understood Angela’s exhortation to “lead with equity” to mean that all the work we do must be planned and enacted based on the fundamental principle of equity. Going beyond the tenets of equal opportunity, I believe she calls on the social sector to take the lead in repairing the historic inequities in our society and that our missions are only truly enacted when we do so.
    Deborah Davidson
    Vice President, Governance Research and Publications

  6. Julia Fairchild Says:

    What does ‘Lead with equity’ mean? What is equity in the non-profit context?

  7. Linda, I have shared with my Board of Directors (Millennium Arts Salon of Washington, DC) your “musings” about your experience at BLF and the Executive Summary of “Fourth Sector Network” thinking, such being supported by Aspen and Kellogg. As we think about our own organization(s), and as we anticipate our leadership in 4th Sector culture, let’s recommit ourselves to exploring collaborative opportunities amongst ourselves. Better yet, let’s make them!

    Upon our completion of holiday season convivialities, please allow me to enjoin you further in conversation about (1) the future of American culture; (2) the role of the many culturally and ethnically specific communities that undergird our society and our outreach to same; and (3) our construction together of specific, measurable outcomes that will impact our society in meaningful and powerful ways, evidence of which will be our witness to incremental millions of American citizens reaching their higher good directly as a result of our work together. The collaborative of FSN, Aspen and Kellogg is most impressive, and our organization would be honored to contribute to the build of new methodologies.

    My best wishes on the holiday season to you all.

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