A month later, and my head is still swimming from this year’s BoardSource Leadership Forum in San Francisco. It was an exhilarating experience…if you were there, I hope you agree; if not…here are some of my thoughts as I’ve returned to “real life” at my desk in Washington.
As I wrote in my last entry, I wish I could have been in at least three places at once during most of the two days to absorb the nonstop energy, enthusiasm, and exchange of ideas. Thank you to all our presenters for sharing your knowledge and expertise with us. I also wish I could write a transcript of the whole conference here, but I’ll content myself with some highlights from our keynote speakers.
Carol Larson, president and CEO of the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, kicked us off with the five things nonprofits must have to succeed: a relentless focus on mission; an embrace of a culture of inquiry and learning; openness to innovative solutions all the time; willingness to take risks; and willingness to engage in new levels of collaboration. Our luncheon keynote speaker, Angela Glover Blackwell, founder and CEO of PolicyLink, exhorted us with a simple message that had enormous weight and impact, as simple messages often do: lead with equity. No matter what our function in the sector, no matter our mission, no social change will ever truly be accomplished unless we put equity first and commit to imbuing all our planning and programs with that focus. The room was rapt as she shared a childhood story of watching her father confront blatant racism. Our final keynote speaker, Patrick Corvington, CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service, spoke passionately about the role of volunteerism in civil life and echoed Angela’s call for equity. He said volunteers should come from all ethnic groups and backgrounds, the same clarion call we’ve been sounding for the boardroom.
At last year’s BoardSource Leadership Forum, we introduced the concept of “transformative governance” and I have been thinking and writing about it ever since. I was gratified that at this year’s BoardSource Leadership Forum, speakers and attendees were talking about it and helping me flesh out how boards can transform their organizations through governance practices that take into account all the rapid societal changes that are whirling around us. Governance cannot be practiced in a vacuum! In particular, boards must be aware of the new types of organizations that are emerging and decide how they want to react to them.
These new entities were detailed in a paper called “The Emerging Fourth Sector” by the Aspen Institute, with the support of the Kellogg Foundation. The Kellogg paper suggests there are tremendous social, economic, and environmental benefits to be gained as corporations expand beyond their traditional duties to shareholders and customers to embrace corporate social responsibility, socially responsible investing, and community investment, among many others. As nonprofits begin adopting more income earnings strategies, experimenting with marketing, looking at more collaboration, we see foundations undertaking PRIs and MRIs (the latter is mission-related investments; so far foundations have not begun radiographic analysis of their grantees) and emphasizing impact and measurement.
This convergence or emergence of a potentially whole new sector has enormous implications for all of us. Do we just observe from the sidelines as this whole new field of hybrid organizations geared to social and sustainable enterprise takes shape? Or, should we play a role in helping to design the whole new ecosystem that is unfolding? The responsibility for considering these questions and grappling with the answers ultimately falls to the board and executive of the organization – those responsible for governance. Where will your board be? In the game, or simply watching it play out?
Corrected text: 12-21-2010