Billy Shore of Share Our Strength, the parent organization for the No Kid Hungry campaign, responds to BoardSource’s CEO, Anne Wallestad's new way of framing the nonprofit board’s role, and a call for what we’ve termed “Purpose-Driven Board Leadership.”
“The Four Principles of Purpose-Driven Leadership” offers a new framing of a board’s mission that puts purpose first. It might seem obvious that is where purpose should be, but the piece makes the case that most boards focus more on sustaining the organization, and the fundraising necessary to do so, than on advancing the larger societal purpose the organization was created to achieve. It’s a critical and insightful distinction. The two are not necessarily mutually exclusive, but a board’s focus on purpose and on fundraising, on the end and the means to the end, needs to be brought into better balance.
Many nonprofit boards are distorted in make-up and distracted from strategy by the belief that the primary role of the board is the fundraising needed to resource the organization. This leads to multiple problems. The first is that the board is too often populated with well-intentioned generous individuals whose checkbooks may be more formidable than their experience with either community needs, effective solutions, or the ecosystem within which the organization operates. It should be the other way around. The board is the one entity of the organization that is not consumed by the day-to-day, and has both the luxury and the imperative to keep its eyes on the prize at all times and insist that every aspect of the organization serve the mission, not the other way around.
It could be argued that the other board shortcomings the article describes – lack of diversity, disconnection from the communities they serve, ill-informed about the larger ecosystem, are all derivative of the fundamental problem of board preoccupation with fundraising. A board focused on generating financial support is likely to be comprised of board members that embody financial strength. That may be an economically powerful group but also an elite that reflects only a narrow slice of society.
With the disclaimer that as chair of the Share Our Strength board I am unlikely to be objective about it, I believe at least some of our experience, and the growth in impact we’ve witnessed affirms Wallestad’s argument. For our first 25 years our economic model placed corporate partnership at its center, not individual donors. Our board did not include high net worth individuals upon whose generosity we depended. Rather it was comprised of for-profit and nonprofit leaders with experience in growing entrepreneurial organizations, driven by an overriding commitment to our purpose: addressing hunger and poverty. Although we enjoyed 100% board giving, it amounted to only a small fraction of our annual budget. Our board’s focus instead was on impact, culture, talent, and brand.
Initially we fell short when it came to diversity on our board. Over the past several years as we grew more intentional about the diversity of our board we found that beyond it being the right thing to do, our board and organization became higher performing as one would hope and expect when you bring in new ideas, perspectives, and life experience. Our revenues exceeded $100 million last year for the first time – driven by deeper and more widely recognized impact, not by board giving.
The Four Principles of Purpose-Driven Leadership is an essential and provocative reminder that as our world changes in profound ways, the institutions from which we expect effective leadership, like nonprofit boards, must change as well. Purpose will remain our board’s north star, and the four purpose-driven principles of board leadership offers additional compass points toward which we must steer.
Billy Shore is the founder and executive chair of Share Our Strength, the parent organization for the No Kid Hungry campaign. Billy is also the chair of Community Wealth Partners, Share Our Strength’s for-profit consulting firm which provides strategic consulting to help leaders and communities solve social problems.
Read the Four Principles of Purpose-Driven Board Leadership and start a conversation with your board.