Don't Just Sit on a Board: Stand for Your Mission

Posted by Anne Wallestad, president & CEO on Oct 9, 2014 4:45:18 AM

photo (4)By Anne Wallestad, BoardSource president & CEO

I am a true believer in the power of boards. I have seen strong and courageous boards pull organizations away from the brink, and I have seen weak and disengaged boards allow an organization to languish.

At BoardSource, we have spent the past 26 years helping organizations and boards strengthen and improve the way that they provide leadership and governance to their organization. We support boards as they work to recruit more strategically, reflect critically on their performance, and think deeply about the work of the organization.

All of these things are critically important when it comes to the success of your board, but the all-too-often-overlooked reality is that some of the most important work that board members do happens outside the boardroom.

It happens when board members represent their organization’s mission and values to those who don’t know about it, don’t care about it, or are actively working against it. It happens when board members stand up for their missions by engaging in important conversations about the future of our communities. It happens when nonprofit leaders — staff and board together — advocate.

Nonprofit organizations and their leaders have a legal right to advocate, yet far too many avoid engaging in important conversations that have a huge impact on their organizations’ missions. This can happen out of fear, misunderstanding, or lack of information. Whatever the reason — as a nonprofit sector — we are missing a tremendous opportunity to align priorities and policies with strategies that we know will make a difference in our communities. And to fend off changes or attacks that would threaten our ability to serve the public good.

Boards — as the ultimate decision-making body for each nonprofit organization — have an important role to play in breaking through unnecessary barriers and championing the policies and decisions that will better support the communities and causes that their organizations serve. We have a responsibility to identify those opportunities that would enable us to address the root causes and core issues that our missions seek to address. And we have the potential to amplify and accelerate our organization’s impact by tapping into the influence and access that boards bring to an organization through advocacy.

At BoardSource, we have long heralded the important role that board members play in serving as ambassadors and advocates for their missions. But — in the midst of all of our other resources to support strong and effective board leadership — the message about the importance of getting outside the boardroom and standing up for your mission has gotten lost.

That’s why this week, BoardSource — in partnership with our colleagues at the Alliance for Justice, the Campion Foundation, the Forum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, and the National Council of Nonprofits — is launching the Stand for Your Mission Campaign. This campaign seeks to unleash the full potential of the nonprofit sector to create positive change by challenging nonprofit board members to fully embrace the role that they can play as champions, ambassadors, and advocates for their missions.

Why is this so important? Because in a world where time and resources are limited, advocacy is an opportunity to leverage limited resources to maximum effect.

  • The opportunity to secure and protect critical public funds that support proven program strategies.
  • The opportunity to create policy changes that enable us to do our work better and more efficiently.
  • And the opportunity to solve, rather than mitigate, the most pervasive social problems that we face as a society.

Let’s redefine what strong board leadership means, because it’s about more than what happens within the four walls of your boardroom. It’s about doing what it takes to ensure that your mission can succeed. And advocacy — standing up for your mission — is unquestionably a part of that.

Start a conversation in your boardroom about what board engagement in advocacy could do for your organization. Download the Stand for Your Mission discussion guide.

For more information about the Stand for Your Mission Campaign, visit

This post first appeared in the HuffPost Impact blog.


Topics: Perspectives on Board Service, Board Best Practices, The Board’s Role in Advocacy, New Trends & Resources