As an effective and well functioning nonprofit organization, good governance and being responsible to the mission you exist to accomplish are critical. And I am not referring specifically to the published mission statement, although it may be accurate, but rather the DNA of the organization, the organization’s true purpose.
Sometimes that purpose becomes murky or has lost its clarity. This can be a natural, but avoidable progression in organizational growth. An organization may stop asking of, and listening to, those it serves.
As Anne Wallestad, President and CEO, at BoardSource has stated in an earlier article:
“The recognition that organizational power and voice must be authorized by those impacted by the organization’s work.”1
Her use of the word ‘authorized’ to make this point is so powerful. It tells us that at the root of what drives us must be the voices of those who we serve.
In her great article2 this topic is viewed from the perspective of the four principles of a purpose-driven board. I encourage you to read the article here as it is full of great insight and suggestions.
Her four principles of purpose-driven board leadership are as follows:
Principle 1: Purpose before organization
The prioritization of an organization’s purpose, versus the organization itself.
Principle 2: Respect for ecosystem
An acknowledgement that an organization’s actions can positively or negatively impact its surrounding ecosystem, and a commitment to being a respectful and responsible ecosystem player.
Principle 3: Equity mindset
A commitment to advancing equitable outcomes, and interrogating and avoiding the ways in which the organization’s strategies and work may reinforce systemic inequities.
Principle 4: Authorized voice and power
The recognition that organizational power and voice must be authorized by those impacted by the organization’s work.
Another point about a purpose-driven approach is:
- A traditional board asks: What is best for our organization?
- A purpose-driven board asks: What is best for the desired social outcome we seek?
I’ll leave it to you to decide how you might engage with all of this information, but I do encourage you to implement principle 4: ‘Authorized voice and power, the recognition that organizational power and voice must be authorized by those impacted by the organization’s work’ as soon as you can.
This type of consultation and connection with those you serve is critical. Asking them what they need, how you are doing in meeting those needs and what you could do better can be an incredibly illuminating process that you will certainly learn from. But possibly more importantly, it communicates your care and is empowering to those you serve.