The Primary Care Coalition of Montgomery County (PCC) is deeply committed to providing a continuum of care for low-income, uninsured and underinsured, ethnically diverse residents of Montgomery County. They work with clinics, hospitals, health care providers and other community partners to coordinate health care services for our most vulnerable neighbors. Their vision is a community in which all residents have the opportunity to live healthy lives.

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

PCC is a backbone organization in our community. Collaboration is our mechanism for achieving our mission. We bring together funding from our local government, hospitals, and foundation partners and, through partnerships with other nonprofits in our community, ensure vulnerable community residents have access to health services. We serve as a data hub; our direct service partners entrust us with the analytics and aggregation of protected health information. Our community looks to us, with our process improvement and facilitation expertise, to serve as a convener across the healthcare and social service sectors to achieve systems level change.

We work in partnership with so many different entities, and it is important they are confident in our internal governance and can look to us to model and share best practices. For PCC as an organization, the credibility of this prestigious award would further affirm to external stakeholders that PCC’s leadership governs the organization well, is committed to continuous learning and sharing what it learns with our partner nonprofits.

For the PCC Board, being a finalist for the Board Leadership Award from the Center from Nonprofit Advancement validates the Board’s introspection for and time dedicated to enhancing Board culture, composition, structure and stakeholder engagement.   Being a finalist also reinforces that Board improvement work is valuable and should be continuous, in parallel and in support of our work on setting and driving organizational strategy in a changing healthcare environment.

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

This is PCC’s second year applying for this award. We have found tremendous value in the feedback received through the application process. Having an external entity examine our Board practices causes us to see them with a different lens as well. In doing so, we can see areas to change and innovate.

Using the feedback from the previous year’s interview we recognized there are community and population perspectives missing from our Board. In response, we developed Board composition guiding principles and a Board structure and recruitment pipeline strategy to asses and address gaps. In addition to recruiting new Board members with different perspectives, we also created Committee Charters, updated our bylaws to allow non-Board members on most committees as voting members, and clarified the role of Board members affiliated with PCC partners.

This latter work led to the chartering of a Stakeholder Engagement and Relationship Strengthening Work Group, tasked with developing relationship strengthening work plans, commensurate with the impact of the relationship, that ensure the relationship is sustainable in the event of turnover at PCC or the stakeholder organization.

Through this year’s application process, we’ve recognized the importance of explicitly building a Board culture and structure for continuous learning, improvement, and innovation in governance practices. We’ve also recognized that, as a backbone organization, we interact with Boards of many nonprofits and can lead by modelling best practices and promoting the value of external feedback and internal reflection for Boards. Partnerships and collaboration are the mechanism through which we forward our mission; the strength and excellence of our partners’ Boards is relevant to our mission.

What advice would you offer for other organizations/board members striving for excellence in board leadership?
  1. It is important that organizations/board members embrace introspection and change regarding Board culture, perspectives, relationships, and work methods. Select a Board Chair who will explicitly champion change and Board excellence; change must be welcomed and made a priority from the top.
  2. Use time-limited work groups to address issues within the domains of Board governance. Set a clear work group charter and goal, achievable within a short time frame (e.g. six meetings/six months). Ensure the Board timely considers work group recommendations and enacts reasonable changes. As a work group concludes, determine next priority for a work group.
  3. Determine what diversity means for your Board and adopt guiding principles for Board member recruitment. Consider the skills, perspectives or voices needed at the Board to ensure the organization holds to its mission and understands the need it exists to serve. Build an ongoing recruitment network and pipeline that can deliver the voices and skills when identified, rather than seek members only when there is a vacancy or to ‘check a box’. If the Board and its related committees and work group are not sufficiently diverse, focus on building a more extensive recruitment network. Where appropriate, include non-board members as voting members of standing committees and work groups as a means to develop those unfamiliar with or uncertain about Board service.

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