A few years ago, I had the opportunity to publish a blog collaboratively with BoardSource discussing what the boards I work with might look like to my children – at the time ages 1 and 3. Here we are in 2019 and my babies just turned 6 and 8.
Since that time we’ve become a family of three, then a blended family of six, said goodbye to beloved pets and close family members; they’ve started elementary school, various sports, piano and dance lessons, and we’ve moved into our forever home. To be sure, our life has been full, busy, organized chaos.
Along the way I’ve spent a good amount of time trying to help them understand philanthropy and the nonprofit sector (in other words, “what Mommy does all day”). They’ve also since had the opportunity to see me lead a Board Institute session on Fundraising Fundamentals, facilitate a peer leadership group and see the amazing Gail Perry present at our local AFP Planet Philanthropy conference.
I still wonder what they think of my work and battle the concept that when we donate items to other people or organizations, we automatically get something in return. Yet, the lessons they learn from my work is surprisingly similar to what it was a few years ago. As their needs continue to evolve, so do that of our clients.
Below is a revised list of some lessons learned (Version 2.0 if you will) intertwined with questions to inspire your own inquiry into your board culture. Feel free to use what fits best for your own organization’s culture – you are, after all, the expert in your organization and it’s culture!
We previously addressed this as the need to respect one another’s personal viewpoint and proverbial “space.” But at the end of the day it comes down to understanding what is ok and what is not ok when we’re interacting with our board, committee or staff teams.
In truth, you can’t make assumptions here about how one or many others want to be led, communicated with or treated. It starts with a conversation about boundaries. This concept and word has become ever more important with my kiddos as we talk about not just personal space but respecting every voice in the room.
In what ways are you ensuring that every voice at the table is being heard in meetings? How might you encourage many voices (along with civil disagreements and conflict transformation) within your activities? What systems or communications can you and your leadership put into place that will help everyone live BIG?
2. Use your voice and advocate for what you believe in. Civilly & without an attitude.
I spend a lot of time talking to boards about their legal Duty of Care. Simply defined, this is a board member’s legal duty to make decisions in good faith. In short, this means “if you see something, say something” and if you have a questions, you ask them.
You simply cannot serve on a nonprofit board or leadership team observing wrong-doing, missteps or mission creep AND still be within your legal duties of service. You also can’t serve on a board with questions unanswered. To be sure, this doesn’t mean that leaders should have something to say about everything – much like my youngest, we all need to learn to pause and decide like my oldest, if it’s worth the effort of getting upset about or letting it go. It also means of course that when you do share, your tone and words matter to the receiver(s).
How do you personally implement your legal duty of care? In what ways could you choose courage over comfort when it comes to board meeting participation? How and from who might you receive feedback on your leadership style and how you bring up issues within your board?
3. Make time for each other.
Though it’s often a logistical struggle and time crunch, I try to make time for everyone in my blended family. Sometimes that means one-on-one time, just my littles and me, a weekly date night with my partner, giving the teenagers their desired space, and my precious alone time. NONE of that just happens automatically and it often requires a significant amount of planning. At the heart of it all, though, is the intention that we want to connect with one another at the level(s) and in the way(s) that are most meaningful to all of those in our family circus.
We don’t often make time to connect within one another at board meetings or other activities. As humans, we are inherently wired for connection and research has shown that those groups with more social connections are often best prepared to conquer organizational, cultural or societal challenges collectively.
How is your board and leadership team making intentional time to connect with one another? In what ways, can you create social capital building as part of your board culture?
4. Please and Thank you.
It’s easy for us to take for granted the tiny moments of gratitude and mutual respect that can be displayed within nonprofit leadership, much like it is for our families. Sometimes we’re so busy doing the business we forget that we’re fueled by people. Passion can run roughshod over purpose… and people. Whether that is the increased volume of a board leader’s voice, talking over one another or my least favorite – passive-aggressive behavior between meetings – all can be deleterious to a board’s culture.
We all as board members can (and should!) have strong opinions about the missions and agencies we support. It is absolutely a good thing to be passionate about your volunteer time and efforts but it is important to ask:
How are you handling getting your individual point across during heated discussion? After a boardroom disagreement, can you find a way to celebrate the lively discussion instead of use it for fodder at a later date for ill will or misguided intentions?
We’d love to hear about your own board culture!
Please feel free to share your successes and challenges in the comment section, OR reach out to us today to schedule a free 30-minute consultation with a team member.
If you’re interested in learning more about board culture and why it matters to your nonprofit:
stay tuned for our Education Connection webinar: Growing Your Board’s Culture of Philanthropy – coming in early 2020.
Interested in helping your own children or grandchildren learn more about how they can participate in philanthropy?
About the Author: Liz Wooten-Reschke is President/CEO of Connect For More. CFM engages leaders and empowers philanthropists to help them accomplish their mission. As the lead consultant, Liz focuses her efforts on providing ongoing support & coaching for chief executives and volunteers of nonprofits, workshop & retreat facilitation, and customized engagements to enhance board governance, agency strategy and leadership experience with her clients. Liz is a Certified Dare to Lead™ Facilitator and BoardSource Certified Governance Trainer. She is a proud member of the University of South Florida Alumni Association Board, a fourth-generation Floridian and Key West Conch. She lives in Tampa, Florida, with her partner, four children, two dogs, and one cat. For more information about Liz or her work, please visit her company website, follow her on Twitter, or visit her Amazon author page.