Unit 4: Good governance and organisational oversight


4.6 A purpose-driven Board

An illustration depicting a line of several diverse people – race, gender and disability.

According to BoardSource’s Leading with Intent, it’s most recent study of more than 800 public charity CEOs and Board chairs, non-profit Boards in the USA are currently:

1. Preoccupied with fundraising above all else

When asked how important the Board’s performance is, across 18 areas of Board responsibility, 70% of chief executives rated fundraising as ‘very important’ – above most other categories of Board performance including thinking strategically as a Board, setting the strategic direction of the organisation, knowledge of organisational programs, and understanding the context in which the organisation is working.

2. Disconnected from the communities and people they serve

Fifty per cent of all chief executives said that they did not have the right Board members to ‘establish trust with the communities they serve’. Only a third of Boards (32%) place a high priority on ‘knowledge of the community served’, and even fewer (28%) place a high priority on ‘membership within the community served’.

3. Ill-informed about the contexts in which their organisation is operating

Only 25% of Boards say that ‘knowledge of the organisation’s work or field’ is a high priority in Board recruitment, and only 11% place a high priority on ‘prior or current experience with a similar organisation/mission area’.

4. Lacking in racial and ethnic diversity

Not only are Boards overwhelmingly white (78% of Board members are white and 19% of Boards are all white), but Boards lacking in racial/ethnic diversity self-report that their Boards’ racial/ethnic makeup negatively impacts their ability to:

  • Understand the organisation’s operating environment and work.
  • Attract and retain talent for both the Board and staff.
  • Enhance the organisation’s standing with funders, donors, and the public.
  • Understand how to best serve the community.
  • Cultivate trust and confidence with the community served.

What then can be done? To address these issues, purpose-driven Boards should ask the following questions to reverse the four gaps highlighted above:

  • What is best for the desired social outcome we seek?
  • How would this impact the players and dynamics within our context/ecosystem?
  • How will this decision or strategy create more equitable outcomes?
  • How can we avoid systematic inequities?
  • Is our Board populated in a way that ensures that our power is authorised by and inclusive of the community impacted by the work that we do?
  • Are we doing all we can to listen to what our programmatic stakeholders tell us is most important?

(Source: The Four Principles of Purpose-Driven Board Leadership)

Activity 4.3 The principles of a purpose-driven Board

The article, Leading with Intent, defines the four principles of a purpose-driven Board as:

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.

How can a purpose-driven Board strengthen organisational safeguarding culture and practice?

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