This post is one in a series written by nonprofit leaders who are presenting sessions at the 2014 BoardSource Leadership Forum on October 9 & 10 in Washington, DC. There’s still time to register!
At TCC Group, I have spent several decades helping nonprofits build the capacity of their boards. I am looking forward to sharing our current explorations in this area at the upcoming BLF gathering by suggesting that, to contribute much-needed expertise and provide maximum support, boards need to enhance their “relational capacity.”
For the purposes of our discussion, I am defining relational capacity as “the ability of a nonprofit organization to clearly understand its niche and strategic positioning within a larger ecosystem; appreciate the positioning and value of other stakeholders; instill trust in, and network with, other key actors and institutions; and promote and engage in healthy relationships that function within and in support of a larger system.”
There is a new set of exciting and challenging capacity needs related directly to the notion that it is no longer enough to be organizationally sound without a connection to a larger “ecosystem.” This ecosystem can be a regional community, based in the geographic setting in which a nonprofit sits, or it can be unconfined by geographic boundaries with its connections based in its shared commitment to a particular cause or the social change it seeks to achieve (e.g., the LGBT, environmental, or breast cancer research communities, etc.).
While the need to enhance performance in organizational functions, including staffing, program, technology, and other areas, in light of this larger environment has been acknowledged, governance has been mostly absent from the discussion. We believe that capacity building for boards needs to evolve to more fully incorporate organizations in relation to their larger environments.
At TCC Group, we have begun to identify and examine the development of the skills and behaviors boards must consider to adapt to this new perspective. At my upcoming session at BLF, we will provide an opportunity to explore the implications inherent in a nonprofit’s need to acquire relational capacity in its governance, and the ways in which board leadership can contribute to encouraging systematic acquisition of these capacities to enable the organization to work more effectively in collaboration with other social sector actors.
We have identified the following capacities, grouped in three broad areas, to factor more prominently in our capacity-building work with board leadership:
- Capacity to truly understand the ecosystem
- Capacity to engage with an ever-evolving ecosystem
- Capacity to adapt organizational structure relative to the ecosystem
The mere understanding of the interrelationship of nonprofits within an ecosystem and other capacity frameworks, ideas, theories, and concepts does not necessarily translate into effective capacity building. Grounded in a wealth of experience and armed with new technologies and information, TCC Group is exploring new and more sophisticated methods of helping nonprofit boards, their organizations, and ecosystems actualize their performance. The following methods have begun to guide our work with boards, and session participants will gain familiarity and experiential knowledge of each throughout the course of the BLF session:
- Creating effective consumers of capacity building
- Including change management support
- Analyzing the organization’s place in the ecosystem
- Engaging diversity, equity and inclusion.
- Creating targeted diagnosis and prioritized entry to enact change
I will be using a session structure that relies on a combination of sharing TCC’s latest learnings, listening to the ways in which a panel of nonprofit CEOs and board chairs are considering ways to acquire greater relational capacity, and interactive discussion. We aim to provide conference attendees with the groundwork to embrace the basics of Board Capacity Building 3.0.
TCC Group, a national consulting firm that works exclusively in the social sector. Over the years, Richard Mittenthal has advised many nonprofit organizations and grantmaking foundations on issues of governance.