The communities we live in are interconnected. Many social-good organizations strive every day to address the barriers that keep individuals and families from thriving. The impact and long-term sustainability of these social-good organizations depends heavily on the direction set by leadership and the board of directors. Yet, there is often a disconnect between the board and executive leadership.
Network leadership experts Jane Wei-Skillern and Mary Kooistra authored a paper called “Reimagining Boards for High Impact Through Networks.” The paper suggests that boards can provide the kind of values-driven, strategic leadership and oversight that social-good organizations need to accomplish their mission and vision. They also list five primary areas where boards can focus their energy to strengthen their community relationships and increase their impact.
The five ways include:
1. Allocate Board Time to Mission-Critical Activities
Among all of the social-good leaders Wei-Skillern and Kooistra interviewed, they consistently shared that there is never enough time allocated for mission-critical activities. “Closer reflection reveals that board time is often spent on comparatively inconsequential issues, leaving insufficient time for strategic thinking.”
Designing purposeful meeting agendas that include time for strategic thinking ensures that the board dedicates sufficient time for activities such as reviewing outcomes and impact data to determine how well the organization is delivering on its vision and mission.
Sustainable Conservation (SusCon) is a social-good organization in San Francisco, California that focuses on uniting people to solve the toughest challenges facing land, air, and water. They are governed by a diverse board who bring a mix of knowledge and skills to advance SusCon’s work. In order to ensure the board drives SusCon’s strategic direction, staff submit complex questions for the board to discuss during meetings.
2. Build Community Voices into the Board
According to Leading with Intent: BoardSource Index of Nonprofit Board Practices documents prevailing trends in nonprofit boards, data indicate that boards “are often disconnected from the communities and the people they serve; lacking in racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic diversity; under-informed about “ecosystems” of which their organization is a part; and preoccupied with fundraising.” While this report offers a generally encouraging portrait of productive, committed board leadership, it also highlights how boards benefit from active relationships with the communities the organization serves.
“The issues, challenges, and opportunities related to the organization’s purpose are part of the lived experience of community members and beneficiaries, and their perspectives are invaluable to a purpose-driven board.” Wei-Skillern and Kooistra recommend recruiting board members for representation from the community, but not simply by following a matrix to ensure different groups are represented (age, race, gender identity, etc.). They recommend taking it a step further and looking for representation within in each of the following four categories:
Innovators and Problem Solvers
Integrators & Networkers
Following this approach to recruiting board members will create a board that is “centered on community and connected by mission, relationships, and trust.” It also ensures that the voices of community members are integrate to decision making, program and service delivery, and evaluating organizational outcomes and impact.
3. Deepen Board-Staff Connections
In many social-good organizations, there is limited interaction between the board of directors and the frontline staff. Yet, it’s important for board members to have a strong understanding of the everyday work of the organization. Wei-Skillern and Kooistra recommend boards build a trusting relationship where staff can openly share their ideas. At Young Audiences Arts for Learning, New Jersey and Eastern Pennsylvania, staff are asked to present to the board on a regular basis. This provides the opportunity for the board to connect meaningfully with staff and facilitates knowledge sharing between them. Collectively, staff and the board feel that their ideas are being listened to and they are working together to drive progress.
4. Bring Network Aspirations to the Ecosystem
Another recommendation for increasing impact in the community is to focus on collaboration. According to the Stanford Social Innovation Review (SSIR), social organizations working together to solve similar social issues better understand the aggregate impact of their interventions and increase the impact of their collective efforts. It also helps individual organizations learn from and improve their activities, prioritize interventions, and access additional funding.
Also, when board members from varying organizations forge relationships, they achieve more sustainable, effective, and efficient outcomes and impact. Failing to build these relationships is a large missed opportunity.
5. Reframe Accountability and Success
Wei-Skillern and Kooistra’s final recommendation for how your board can help dramatically increase organization impact is change how you define and measure success. While branding and organizational growth are important, they don’t actually demonstrate how participants are better off as a result of the organization.
Parent Possible is a social-good organization in Denver, Colorado that focuses on eliminating two-generation poverty. Executive Director, Heather Tritten shares that there is “no point to have a successful organization if we don’t have successful families.” They try to avoid using fundraising success or organization size as proxies for impact. True impact is demonstrated by how individuals, families, and communities are better off as a result of an organization’s efforts.
Boards need these powerful, real-time insights into program and organization performance so they can provide needed strategic direction to help increase the organization’s impact.
SureImpact connects social-good boards, executive leadership, and staff with real-time insights into organizational impact. SureImpact offers person-centered case management, outcomes and impact management, dashboards, and analytics, enabling staff to track and measure activities and outcomes for their clients, while providing leadership with powerful insights into program and organization performance and social impact.
Join us for our 4-part webinar series “Leveling Up Your Team Impact” to learn how to create internal champions for measuring and communicating your organization’s social impact. Each session will be dedicated to a specific team – all with their unique needs and priorities in mind. You’ll learn how to communicate how each department (and individual) will benefit and grow by making impact measurement a priority.