This past December marked my seven-year anniversary as a member of BoardSource’s leadership team. I came on board in December of 2008, just after we had adopted a new strategic plan — one that focused us on thinking big about the future of board leadership and governance. It adopted some very lofty goals in terms of organizational growth to sustain our work; goals which, in many ways, became instantly irrelevant in the context of a major downturn in our country’s economy. And, BoardSource, like so many other organizations, had to retool and recalibrate for a new financial reality.
Over the past seven years, we’ve experimented with different strategies for change and survived several years of tough financial performance. We learned from our mistakes and developed more efficient ways to serve nonprofit leaders and our mission to strengthen nonprofit board leadership. We ‘got scrappy,’ and we emerged leaner and more streamlined with a smaller budget, but bigger impact, and a dramatically expanded reach. And, perhaps most important, we learned more about ourselves and what it means to lead and grow in a world where change is the constant.
It’s no surprise, then, that when our board and staff leadership decided to embark on a new strategic planning process in the spring of 2015, it was with a healthy dose of skepticism about what a strategic plan can and cannot accomplish. We understood implicitly that it wasn’t about mapping out a linear plan to some pre-determined set of outcomes; we had tried that. We also knew that we weren’t interested in going through a lengthy process that had us hanging our hats on the idea that we could predict or anticipate the needs of the sector and our own organization over the next three to five years. Instead, we took inspiration from some of the ideas and concepts of emergent strategy, and focused on tackling the big questions about who we are as an organization, how the social sector calls on us to serve and lead, and how best to prioritize our efforts in the context of virtually infinite opportunity, but with finite resources.
The result? A framework for BoardSource’s strategy that will guide our work for the foreseeable future. A vision for our future that is forward-thinking and ambitious. And a shared understanding of how we will prioritize our resources and energy on what we believe matters most:
- Deepening our understanding of board leadership and governance
- Inspiring board action on critical issues within the social sector
- Educating leaders and providing support for effective board service and governance
Over the coming months and years, we will be challenging ourselves to objectives:
- generate evidence-based recommendations for board practice by aligning our consulting practice with our research and learning
- identify and interpret trends impacting nonprofit leadership performance and effectiveness through an expanded research practice and partnerships with colleague organizations and academics
- create positive change by directing attention to key opportunities and challenges facing nonprofit leaders, such as the opportunity to expand our organizations’ impact through advocacy and policy change
- inspire new and diverse leaders to serve on boards by emphasizing the positive potential of board service and leadership
- engage and support a broad network of board and staff leaders, including the more than 115,000 nonprofit leaders who are a part of BoardSource’s network today
- provide relevant and accessible resources and guidance to strengthen board leadership globally with an emphasis on affordable and scalable supports that serve nonprofit leaders without geographic limitations
Through it all, you also will see more of what you have come to know of BoardSource over the past several years — a commitment to ongoing learning, a willingness to change and adapt, and deep respect and appreciation for the work of the nonprofit sector and its leaders.
We have learned so much over the years, both from our successes and our mistakes. And — as we share our framework for BoardSource’s strategy moving forward — we do so with the humble understanding that it identifies priorities on which to focus, but not solutions to the sector’s challenges. It offers guidance on how to make wise decisions, not the answers to tough questions that are sure to emerge. And it provides an approach that remains flexible to what the future may bring, but not a roadmap to define how we will get there.
And that means that the challenge to all of us here at BoardSource will be to allow this new strategic framework to point us in an exciting new direction, and then work each and every day to anticipate, embrace, and adapt in ways that will serve our mission, our world, and all of you, even better.
I can’t wait.
For more on BoardSource’s strategy and work, visit our website or listen to a conversation about our plans, as well as our planning process, featuring Anne Wallestad, along with Cathy Trower, BoardSource board member and chair of the strategic planning task force, and Vernetta Walker, vice president of programs and chief governance officer at BoardSource.