What does being a finalist for this award mean for you and your organization?
The Board Leadership Award process has provided 826DC with the opportunity to reflect on the meaningful ways in which we have advanced our work over the past five years, particularly relating to the maturation of our board of directors. Like most nonprofits – like most people – we are emerging from a tough year with a distinct eagerness to turn the page towards a new chapter. We recognize, however, that we are fortunate to have spent the last 18 months engaged in a rigorous strategic planning process that afforded us the space to deeply interrogate our purpose, which positions us to authentically meet increased need in the coming year. On the heels of that very internal process, the Board Leadership Award has encouraged 826DC’s board to consider the ways in which our ongoing stewardship of the 826DC mission connects to the broader nonprofit field. By adhering to best practices for our organization and consistently taking a learner’s stance, we advance not only our own work but the nonprofit field in which we are situated as well. In short: this process has been an incredibly impactful experience in lifting our heads up. We are grateful for the opportunity to see our work validated by experts in the field and feel further galvanized to move this mission forward with integrity and vision.
What have you learned through the application process for the Board Leadership Award?
Through this process, we have learned that the practices we’ve developed as we have matured could perhaps be useful to other organizations transitioning from an emergent stage in their organizational development. We believe in sharing best practices widely – and in fact have benefitted from the approaches highlighted by the Center for Nonprofit Advancement and other experts in this work. Recognizing that 826DC has our own innovations to contribute to the field has been an exciting lesson in this process. We have also felt reaffirmed in that our approach to governance – to remain curious, open to learning, mindful of policy, and eager to make space for a diversity of perspectives – is the animating core of our success and may be resonant for others in this field as well.
What advice would you offer for other organizations/board members striving for excellence in board leadership?
Seek partnership – both among one another and with staff – based in transparency, mutual support, and a sense of imagination. Remain mindful of the distinction between values and action; ensure that your board understands the ways in which your values operationally and programmatically inform your work in order to avoid resting on platitudes. Similarly, make sure that the practices, beliefs, and norms that constitute your culture are codified in your organizational policies. We believe that culture building is a proactive enterprise, and this should be reflected in the policies upon which the organization functions.
Maintain a “nose in, fingers out” approach in which board members are held accountable to active participation and understanding while simultaneously trusting staff to execute. Allow board members to develop a unique relationship with the mission; ensure that individual members have opportunities to more deeply engage with the work through committee participation, volunteering, and leadership opportunities that resonate with their interests and expertise.
Finally, prioritize a learner’s stance as you grow. Openness to a diversity of perspectives is important but not sufficient; a board must actively seek this diversity and create the structures that support differing opinions in critical governance matters. A multitude of perspectives brings organizations like 826DC and our peers toward a more fully realized version of our visions, and for this reason it remains integral to the way in which we operate.