Wednesday, August 11, 2021

A Look at Purpose Driven Boards

 A few days ago, Betsey (Merkel) O'Hagan, a long term supporter of Tutor/Mentor Institute, LLC, posted a message on LinkedIn, pointing to an article on the Stanford Social Innovation Review (SSIR), titled The Four Principles of Purpose Driven Boards, written by Anne Wallestad (@AnneWallestad), who is president and CEO at BoardSource.  

After reading the article, and posting a comment, I shared it on my Twitter feed. 

Below I've  posted a few screenshots from the article along with comments.

The article started by sharing some research from Board Source's recent Leading With Intent study.  I highlighted two points: Disconnected from the communities and people they serve and Ill-informed about the ecosystems in which their organization is operating  

I led two non-profit tutor/mentor programs, from their formation. The first was the Cabrini-Green Tutoring Program, Inc, which was formed in 1990 after operating for the previous 25 years as an employee led program at the Montgomery Ward corporate HQ in Chicago.  The second was started in 1992 after I left the first program. At that point we created Cabrini Connections (a direct service tutor/mentor program) and the Tutor/Mentor Connection, which I still lead via Tutor/Mentor Institute, LLC.

We always needed to focus on fund raising, yet realized that without a board that was well informed, understood our purpose, mission and history, we'd always struggle.  When forming Cabrini Connections we included in board member responsibilities a commitment to spend 2-4 hours monthly reading and learning of the organization's purpose.  

With a constant turnover of board members we constantly struggled with ill-informed and under committed board members.  Thus, I emphasized these two points in the Board Source research.

The next four graphics are from the second section of the article, titled "Respect for Ecosystem".  

The first paragraph focuses on the need for Boards to understand the ecosystem within which they operate.

This second passage follows and talks of how organizations work to address this lack of ecosystem awareness through board education and exposure to programs.

This is where problems with Boards really begin to surface.  NonProfits seek people with talent and influence, who have proven themselves in their careers, and who they "hope" will help access funding from their workplace and/or their personal and professional networks.  That's what my organization did. Unfortunately, most of these people had spent little time thinking of how tutor/mentor programs operate or how an intermediary like the Tutor/Mentor Connection might influence support for every tutor/mentor program in a city, including our own.  The ultimate separation of the Tutor/Mentor Connection from Cabrini Connections in 2011 was a result of this lack of understanding.

On-the-job learning is not enough because busy people don't take the time to do the in-depth reading and learning needed to bring them to even moderate understanding of the organization's purpose, history, or it's ecosystem. 

The next paragraph talks about understanding the ecosystem within the neighborhood where the organization will operate. Are there already organizations there who might be negatively impacted by adding a new organization? 

Below is the concluding part of the section on "Respect for Ecosystem".  The first bullet is what a "traditional board" would do. The second is what a "purpose driven board would do".   How does our organization impact the ecosystem and do the most good? 

There are three more sections to this article, which are equally valuable.  Each concludes with this two part summary.  Please read the article.

I'm jumping to the concluding paragraph with this next graphic.

I highlighted "Applying purpose-driven board leadership principles means leaning into the pursuit of a social good purpose at an ecosystem level and a shift away from protectionism and self-promotion at an organizational level."

I've been sharing maps on this blog since 2005, and the Mapping for Justice blog since 2008. I started using maps in 1993.  Below is a brochure we created for Manufacture's Bank (now MB Financial) in the late 1990s, to show the ecosystem surrounding one of their branch banks.  

We created three other versions of this for branch banks in other parts of Chicago, with the goal that employee volunteers within the bank would use this information to help tutor/mentor programs grow in that neighborhood.

Below is another example. It's one of the maps I shared in this story last week.

In both examples I'm encouraging business and nonprofits within a geographic area to get to know the ecosystem within which they operate, with a goal of filling the area with purpose-driven organizations working to expand the network of support for inner city kids and help those kids move more successfully, and safely, from birth to work. 

I emphasize that by trying to help every organization in the area grow, you help your own business and/or nonProfit organization grow.

In my comment on the SSIR article I emphasized how difficult it is to find volunteer Board members who fit the aspirations of this article. For some organizations, who are well connected to civic and business resources, this may be less of a problem, but for mid-size and smaller organizations it's a crisis.

I have proposed a solution. Actually, many.

You'll find this graphic in this article. It's one of several in a Tipping Points set of articles on this blog.  

Expecting board members to "learn as much as they need to know while on the job" is unrealistic. I propose growing new leaders, starting in middle school and continuing through college and then on throughout careers.  In this graphic I show two outputs from such a long-term learning system.  One group of people goes into direct service, with a wide range of skills and in-depth knowledge of the field they will devote their careers.   The second, larger group, are people who go into other careers, but continue learning, and develop a proactive habit of reaching out to offer time, dollars and talent to support non-profit organizations in their ecosystem.

In this article I point to my race-poverty concept map and the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) website. Each node on my map, and each of the 17 SDGs, represents a channel of learning that takes many years to master at the level ideal Board members should understand to guide a  purpose-driven mission.  Too few board members have spent enough time learning this. They've been building careers and raising their own families.

In this ROLE OF LEADERS presentation I offer a second, related strategy. CEOs need to encourage on-going, and long-term employee involvement in youth development programs that create future workers and customers.  

I created this volunteer-involvement concept map in the late 2000s to show how volunteers who stay involved for many years grow their understanding and involvement.  While this focuses on what non-profits do to support continued volunteer involvement, CEOs can also do much to encourage employees to give time when they are young and have extra time, and to give talent, dollars and leadership as they advance in age and in their careers...and in their knowledge of the ecosystem supported by the Boards where they volunteer.

Adoption of these ideas could dramatically increase the number of people available to serve on "purpose driven boards" and thus the positive impact that non-profit organizations and their supporters have on local and global issues.

The challenge now is getting more people from every sector to read these articles, reflect on them, and share them with others in their networks.  That's the purpose of the graphics below, which I created more than 20 years ago.

One of my former students asked me "how can I help" a few days ago. I encouraged her to read, reflect, share and help build the network.

Thank you to all who are doing this. And thank you to the small group of people who continue to support me with financial contributions.  If you'd like to join that group, visit this page and use PayPal to submit a contribution. 

August 30, 2021 update - Here's an article I posted in 2013 under the title of "Engaging Board Members, Business Leaders, in Deeper Learning".  

June 6, 2023  update - "How to Build Movements with Cyclical Patterns in Mind" is an article that should stimulate the thinking of social change organizations. - click here

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