The Imperative for Governing for the Future: Because nonprofits’ operating environments are changing with such rapidity and day-to- day operations can be consuming, governing boards must support their organizations in defining their preferred future states and adapting in the present to position them for prospective opportunities.
Governing boards of high-impact nonprofits serve as the guardians of the horizon, and they do this by helping their organizations define and realize their future aspirations. Rather than focusing solely on organization operations, they have a generative orientation, regularly engaging in discourse around root causes of trends and issues, potential impacts to the organization, and possible courses of action.
They analyze market, political, practice, and community trends to help define the organization’s preferred future and ensure mission and strategy alignment. They also guarantee that the organization is meeting or exceeding the expectations of investors, partners, and constituents around community impact. Governing boards see, listen, and understand the complex opportunities and challenges within the community, and use their knowledge to advocate with the community and those connected to the organization. They champion the organization’s work by telling its success stories and sharing its impact numbers.
Future-focused governing boards minimize the organizations’ exposure to risk, but push and support their organizations to pursue lofty goals, to take calculated risks, and to innovate. They promote stability through future-oriented financial planning and management designed to support vision and mission, generate resources, and achieve meaningful community impact. Governing boards also engage in succession planning to ensure organizational continuity during planned and unanticipated board and executive transitions.
Leading with Vision: Hillside Family of Agencies
Hillside Family of Agencies in Rochester, New York, intentionally creates time for generative and strategic governance by hosting Future Watch. Several times a year, a small group of board members and the organization’s chief executive convene to discuss big-picture challenges and trends that will affect Hillside’s mission, vision, and strategy. They know that the purpose of the meetings is not to identify a set of operations, objectives, or timeframes, but rather to advance their thinking about how Hillside must adapt and build capacity to seize opportunities in long-term trends.
The organization also holds smaller breakout meetings with board members and the chief executive. During these conversations they address board members’ driving concerns and motivations. In order to best leverage their strengths, the organization identifies what causes its board members to volunteer, what led them to Hillside, what they want to achieve, and how Hillside can help them achieve their aspirations.