The 2011 BoardSource Leadership Forum, “Governing Toward the Future,” is now in the past. I, along with more than 600 of the most interesting and knowledgeable nonprofit leaders from across the country, enjoyed two full days of discussion, debate, deliberation, and decision. In groups ranging from two-person conversations to full-blown plenary keynotes, we conducted a wide-ranging yet intensive examination of the future of our sector and how it relates to the larger economy.
If you weren’t there, I have to tell you: the synergy was amazing. A number of themes emerged across the sessions as if all the speakers and participants had done one, gigantic planning conference call ahead of time. Here’s what everyone was talking about:
Now more than ever, nonprofit boards need to embrace collaboration as the way we advance our missions and maximize our impact. We heard the plea from several speakers such as leading economist Jeff Faux, who said, “Whatever you are doing, you cannot do it alone… We need to return to a sense of cooperation.” We heard Professor Jane Wei-Skillern from the UC Berkeley explain how nonprofits can increase social impact by building strategic networks with like-minded groups.
Also reverberating throughout the conference was what I viewed as an unprecedented sense of urgency around the need for innovation in the sector. Several sessions called for new ways of thinking. Cheryl Dorsey, Executive Director of Echoing Green, explained how visionary social entrepreneurs, who “refuse to accept conventional conceptions of what’s possible,” inject energy and find new solutions to our social and economic problems. Others discussed how nonprofits need to take calculated risks, create “positive tension,” and invite a more diverse group of stakeholders to the table. In the event’s opening video, Yvonne Bryant Johnson from the GA Center for Child Advocacy memorably said that she had “given up on being right” as a strategy for challenging the status quo and bringing new ideas to the table.
We also heard about innovative business models for nonprofits. David Greco from Nonprofit Finance Fund urged participants to “flexify” by increasing earned income and reducing our reliance on restricted grants. CEO Maya Enista Smith talked about how Mobilize.org has an exit strategy— the organization was created around specific goals and will disband once targets are reached. Heerad Sabeti, Co-Founder of the Fourth Sector Network, optimistically explained how hybrid organizational structures are leading us towards a “fundamental transformation of the social sector” that holds promise for addressing the greatest challenges in our 21st Century.
Other themes revolved around the use of technology in governance. In an interactive debate on future board practices, Governance Consultant Bob Schorr suggested that committee work would someday operate differently—not situated in time or place, but rather evolving through a digital cloud of shared information. Indeed, our own BoardSource Virtual Boardroom demonstration had many visitors looking to save time and increase communication via an online governance portal.
We’ve started a post-BLF web page with pictures, video, and some of the presenters’ materials, and we’ll keep adding to it as we receive more. I encourage you to visit the page often.
But you really should be there. Mark your calendar now for the 2012 BoardSource Leadership Forum in Chicago, September 14 and 15. Better yet, register for it now. I guarantee we’ll make history there, too.