Investments in board development reap guaranteed returns. I promise.

“Though diverse in their missions, [nonprofit] organizations often face a common – and potentially devastating – challenge. They have selected boards of directors loaded with smart, talented, accomplished people. But, as a team, these boards are not coming close to reaching their potential.”

So begins an article from the newsobserver.com blog. Fortunately, after starting bleak, the author goes on to highlight success stories within the larger saga of board governance.

There’s not much in the piece that I and my colleagues at In Trust, the organization that serves the boards of seminaries and theological schools in North America, haven’t said over the past 20 years or so. But it’s always nice to bump into like-minded advocates of better board governance.

It’s a pleasure to find folks who share our concern that “the very groups that day-to-day leaders of social enterprises depend on for guidance are struggling with their most basic responsibilities.”

THE COST OF LEARNING TO GOVERN WELL

Along with the organizations cited in the newsobsever.com article, In Trust is on a mission to provide quality board education opportunities and governance resources.  But doing so comes at a cost — often beyond what the organizations most in need of help are able to handle. It’s hard to convince boards of cash-strapped nonprofits that setting aside a little something for their own development is in the best interest of the organization.

Which leads to a shout-out to program staff in foundations across North America who champion capacity building grants with a governance focus. This includes the good folks at the Murdock Trust in Vancouver, WA, with whom In Trust was a partner in a recent workshop for presidents  and board chairs of Christian colleges and seminaries operating in the Pacific Northwest.

Based on a review of thousands of grants to hundreds of organizations, the Murdock staff have come to believe that better boards are key to the success of projects funded by the foundation. Now they’re putting their money where their beliefs are with a pilot project exploring how best to shape a continuing emphasis on board governance.

MAY THE FUNDING TRIBE INCREASE

My message to anyone who’s looking for a bigger bang for his or her funding bucks is this: give in support of board development. And I’m not talking just to the foundation community. Support for board development can come from:

  • individual board members or other friends of the organization who understand the transformational potential of a stronger board.
  • community-based agencies such as United Ways, Chambers of Commerce, or service clubs.
  • colleges and universities (e.g. the program at Duke’s Fuqua School of Business that’s cited in the newsobserver. com article).
  • professional associations, including those supporting  state-wide networks of nonprofit organizations.

So, if you’re looking to make a truly transformational gift, consider giving in support of board development.  Putting your money into better board governance is a rock-solid investment. This I guarantee.

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