Governance by Design: Key Takeaways from the BoardSource Leadership Forum

Boardsource Leadership ForumEarlier this month, the BoardMax Team attended the 2014 BoardSource Leadership Forum (BLF) in Washington D.C. The event convened more than 700 board members, executives, staff and nonprofit professionals.

The theme was governance by design, or intentional governance, with a conference track dedicated to the topic. Sessions illustrated how nonprofits are increasingly, and purposefully, measuring their impact, adapting to changing marketing conditions and collaborating to achieve stronger results. Below we elaborate on this trend with key takeaways from track sessions.  

Maximize Organizational Impact

What do you do if nonprofit programs and services aren’t effective or achieving the best returns? In the session, “Using Design Thinking to Enhance Your Organization’s Effectiveness,” Theresa Reid, founder of Theresa Reid, PhD + Associates, Consulting, recommended a design-thinking approach to the problem.

Design thinking is the “process of product or program development rooted in empathy and characterized by creative collaboration, and rapid experimentation and revision.”

It involves understanding end users’ challenges and desires, brainstorming solution ideas and then executing a minimum viable product solution. Users evaluate this early version of your product or service, and feedback is integrated into a revised solution. The process continues until an effective resolution to the problem is met.

By using this test-and-reiterate model, nonprofits can improve service delivery, and minimize costs associated with service planning and rollout—both of which positively affect overall organizational impact.

Adapt to an Ever-Changing Environment

The world is moving faster than ever before, and nonprofits need to keep up with the changes happening around them or risk being left behind.

In “Governance 3.0: Determining Your Organization’s Role in the Social Ecosystem,” Richard Mittenthal, president and CEO of TCC Group, encouraged nonprofits to think “beyond the organizational bubble,” and evaluate how they fit into the larger ecosystem, which includes companies, funders, government, partner organizations and individuals. With a sound understanding of organizational strengths, and how others complement or influence your nonprofit’s strategic direction, adaptability and responsiveness improve.

Collaborate for Results

When organizations strategically address social issues together, impact and capacity (both in time and money) amplifies.

In “Navigating the Merger-to-Collaboration Spectrum,” Alex Neuhoff and Maria Orozco of The Bridgespan Group, detailed the forms of collaboration that exist: mergers, shared services, joint programming and associations. 

They encouraged nonprofits to have a strategic rationale for the partnership upfront, and reminded them “human integration is harder than system integration.” As such, it’s important to properly vet potential partners (especially at a cultural level) before negotiating and structuring a collaboration with them. 

Is your nonprofit applying governance by design principles? Share your lessons below.