On July 28, 2022, the Nonprofit Quarterly presented an intriguing and highly insightful webinar, Changing the Subject: Boards As Social Movement Spaces. It featured Dr. Carmen Rojas, President and CEO of the Marguerite Casey Foundation, Makiyah Moody, Founder and President of Kairos & Heart LLC, and Jenifer Gager Holland, Founder of JLG Consulting.

Below is a list of some of the highlights, but I encourage you to view the entire webinar for the depth of thought and considerations underlying these highlights and the challenging subject area.

Context-setting

  • Recognize that boards are not monolithic and there may be reasonable disagreements about models and recommendations. Variance and context matters.
  • Boards must engage in governance, but boards do other work too, such as fundraising, which is not governance.
  • One construction of the board’s roles – (1) shape the mission and strategic direction, (2) ensure leadership and resources, and (3) monitor and improve performance.
  • 49% of CEOs said they don’t have the right boards to serve the communities they serve. See Key Nonprofit Governance Report: Leading With Intent.
  • Board members need a connection to the power of the people from the ground up.
  • The ethos of social movements – urgency, clarity, values – can be eclipsed by fiduciary roles for boards

Elements of Social Movements (based on Manuel Pastor’s 10 Key Elements for Movement Building):

  1. Movements are all about a vision and a frame.
  2. Movements have to have an authentic base in key organizing and real constituencies that face challenges and issues.
  3. Movements are a commitment to a long haul.
  4. Movements must have an underlying theory of the economy because they are fundamentally about redistributing opportunities.
  5. Movements must have theory of government and governance, and a real strategy about how to play an inside and outside game.
  6. Movements require a scaffold of solid research.
  7. Movements need a pragmatic policy package; unless you can demonstrate that you can make things better with your own point of view, it’s often very difficult to get people to support you.
  8. Movements must recognize the need for scale to change things (but stay in touch with the grassroots).
  9. Movements must have a strategy for scaling up that is geographic in part.
  10. Movements must be willing to network with other organizations.

The Four Principles of Purpose-Driven Board Leadership (from Anne Wallestad / BoardSource):

  • Purpose before organization: prioritizing the organization’s purpose, versus the organization itself.
  • Respect for ecosystem: acknowledging that the organization’s actions can positively or negatively impact its surrounding ecosystem, and a commitment to being a respectful and responsible ecosystem player.
  • Equity mindset: committing to advancing equitable outcomes, and interrogating and avoiding the ways in which the organization’s strategies and work may reinforce systemic inequities.
  • Authorized voice and power: recognizing that organizational power and voice must be authorized by those impacted by the organization’s work.

Dr. Carmen Rojas Q&A

  • On board member compensation: Being a board member is a real job and an act of labor and should not be limited to just an act of charity.
  • On hierarchy: There are limitless examples of where hierarchy is valuable. And there needs to be more support particularly for women of color executives who are increasingly stepping into positions of power within a hierarchy while facing the pressure of being suspect of hierarchies.
  • On White Supremacy Culture: Too much of the focus is on individuals rather than on institutions. It’s important to know which battles to fight.
  • On board member and leadership roles: Every board member should have a written job description. Roles and purposes need to be in writing. Otherwise, the lack of clarity can cause confusion and be exploited.
  • On CEO connection to the board at the Marguerite Casey Foundation: Board members are available to the CEO when and as she feels is needed.
  • On staff connection to the board at the Marguerite Casey Foundation: Only two employees report directly to the board, but there are other employees who support and have direct relationships with board members. And all employees can submit whistleblower and certain other complaints directly to the board.
  • On board member recruitment: Not looking for agreement, looking for aperture.
  • On board meetings: Meetings are important. They document practices and procedures, create room for relationships, and allow space for CEO vulnerability. Without documentation of board actions, there are greater risks and vulnerabilities.
  • Miscellaneous: It’s important not to confuse identity with ideology.

Final Words

  • Jenifer – Board members have responsibility as the self and as part of the collective; they are more active as the self.
  • Makiyah – Boards need to emphasize relationship-building, and naming and lifting up how they deal with each other, including regarding conflict.
  • Carmen – Organizations must have clarity of roles and relationships among the CEO, staff, board, and the organization.

Nonprofit Quarterly

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Disclosure: I’m a board member and big fan of the nonprofit that publishes The Nonprofit Quarterly.