DC SCORES creates neighborhood teams that give kids in need the confidence and skills to succeed on the playing field, in the classroom, and in life. Our 5-day-a-week programming holistically blends soccer leagues, original poetry/spoken word and child directed service projects—mind, body and soul. Founded by a schoolteacher for 15 kids, DC SCORES has served DC’s low-income communities since 1994. Today, 200+ seasonal community coaches provide 36 weeks (350,000+ child-hours) of free, whole child, after school programs and summer camps for 2,200+ kids at 55 DC traditional/charter public schools and recreation centers.

What does being a finalist for this award mean for you and your organization?

It’s an incredible validation and affirmation of the unsung hard work put in by our Board members over the past many years. Nearly three years ago we experienced the unanticipated loss of a significant funder (due to their shift in focus) at the beginning of our fiscal year. Together, management and board determined not only to address the short-term consequences head-on (and were able to secure replacement funding), but to shore up our fiscal and operational infrastructure so that, should anything like this happened again, it would not threaten organizational viability. We are very proud of the fact that the short-term impact on the kids we serve was minimal, and that we not only recovered, but today serve ~30% more children than we did before that challenge in a more sustainable manner than ever before.

Our Board leadership not only were central to this success, but also recognized that strengthening the Board itself, as it weathered the storm, was a central imperative to DC SCORES’ future success and the avoidance of similar crises in the future. Few outside of their small group are even aware of all that went on behind the scenes. This award means the world to our dedicated Board leaders – a meaningful recognition of their commitment and contributions. It signals to Board prospects the vibrancy and value of dedicating their time and treasure to DC SCORES. It’s also meaningful external validation of DC SCORES’ commitment to be not just an impactful, but a sustainable, long-term presence in the neighborhoods we serve and in kids’ lives

What have you learned through the application process for the Board Leadership Award?

The application process gave us the opportunity to codify – in one place – the many Board culture and Board operations improvements we’ve implemented the past 3 years. Being in the day-to-day weeds, it isn’t always easy to recognize the big picture. Putting this application together gave us a moment to reflect, appreciate, and recognize how robust our Board operations are now, the effort that went into getting to this place, and what is still left to do and – more specifically – what tasks the Board must undertake to continue its growth into the future. All of these practices (the what, how, and why) documented in one place is a great resource for our current Board will undoubtedly be extremely valuable to new Board members during the onboarding and orientation process.

What advice would you offer for other organizations/board members striving for excellence in board leadership?

Developing and maintaining a high-performing board is a continuing and ongoing process. It requires as much intentionality and thought be paid to Board culture and operations as to organizational strategy and fundraising. One Board member committed to excellence in Board leadership cannot alone stand up a high-performing board. It takes the commitment of a team of Board members, over multiple years, to not only drive the cultural and operational changes necessary to build a high-performing Board, but also to sustain that culture and those operations through Board and staff leadership transitions until those practices become institutionalized.