Welcome to the spring 2011 edition of the Nonprofit Quarterly, which focuses primarily on the topic of governance, with a minor in finance.
My favorite part of putting this issue together was asking all of you what was happening with your boards. We are always interested in what is actually going on in the field and how you analyze it, because without knowing that, how can we really be helpful? So, in this year’s annual survey, we asked whether you had seen changes on your boards. Your answers helped us frame our own approach to the topic.
And that is as it should be. While every once in a while we need to introduce something new out of left field, most of the time it is you who should be telling us what we need to explore next.
In this issue we have a number of fascinating articles that, taken together, can provide a good deal of fodder for discussions at the board level. Two respond directly to what we saw in your responses to our survey. The first, “Here We Go Again: The Cyclical Nature of Board Behavior,” by Julia Classen, is based on some research that, I think, has been slightly misrepresented in the twenty years since it was conducted. The article discusses the fact that boards often cycle through periods of attention and inattention—no matter what you do—and that the quality of board engagement often has more to do with externalities and the organization’s capacity at the staff level to deal with those externalities than it does with any development path of its own. This knocks out the “stages of board development” theory, which never resonated for me particularly, and it seems to key well to the responses we got from you about how boards have been responding to the downturn.
The second article, by Jeanne Bell, should be read by every board in the United States. It takes as its premise that the financial oversight practices of most boards are nice but insufficient, and proposes a different role for boards in designing the financial sustainability of the organization. In fact, it is what many boards have been driven to in these times, and as a hard-won lesson it cannot be beat. Bell’s writing is characteristically clear and powerful. Do not just read this article—use it!
There are a number of other excellent articles in the issue, of course. Our own Woods Bowman has contributed an eye-opening article, “The Nonprofit Difference,” on some of the oddities of nonprofit financial structures and how they are the same as and different from those found in the business world;? and Pat Bradshaw and Chris Fredette have written up some research they have done that pushes at the core of why many board “diversity” strategies do not work. In general, we believe this issue contains so many insights and ideas that you would do well to read it thoroughly and share it with your colleagues and board members.
As always, we’d love to know what you think.