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  • Otto Reinisch

Leading in Crisis: The 'New Work' of Nonprofit Boards (Part III)

Corporate boards regularly monitor ‘vital signs’ – cash flow, sales reports, market share – to evaluate the company’s overall health. Nonprofit boards often lack comparable data, because the trustees and staff rarely work together to determine what matters most.1

The final task in completing the ‘new work’ of nonprofit boards is to identify and monitor the vital signs, or critical indicators of success, that measure progress made in addressing strategic priorities identified earlier by board and staff.

When identifying how you will measure success, be creative, seek multiple perspectives, and ask the hard questions. This process should challenge – more than affirm – you as you decide what’s important, what success means, and to whom.

Here’s an example

A community center I’m working with planned to offer neighbors an online health program in response to ‘shelter-in-place’ orders. This fits within a strategic priority identified earlier: “Increase meaningful online connection with constituents”. The first success indicator identified was to realize a 60% increase in the number of people who ‘virtually visit’ online for any reason. Why? With less than 10% of business conducted online (i.e. room reservations, program sign ups, etc.), the board was reluctant to commit resources to something that wouldn’t – or couldn’t – be used. Testing the ability and/or desire of people to do business online was a first step toward implementing this strategic priority.

Measure Inside & Out

Some strategic priorities will be internal. For example, to align committee structures with strategic priorities. Or, to revisit organizational values that may not reflect major societal changes. Just because it's 'in house', don't assume it will get done. Establish indicators for each internal priority – also linking them to a timetable – to monitor progress toward success.

Be Graphic

Avoid information overload. Present essential data on dashboards, infographics, or other easy-to-grasp formats. Feature and discuss this information at every meeting. The ultimate goal of your board is to positively influence critical indicators of success they identify.2 Make it easy for them to see and enjoy their success.

Lead By Example

Finally, in the midst of today’s crisis, constituents need your organization to change in order to meet their changing needs. Your trustees' capacity to do the ‘new work’ of nonprofit boards is a sign of love for those they serve. By bravely discarding tired traditions, dismantling old structures, and deserting deeply ingrained modes of operation, board members will inspire all constituents – including donors – to passionately and generously join them “in the fray”.

REVIEW: Part I / Identifying What Matters Most [June 17] REVIEW: Part II / Aligning Resources Around What Matters Most [June 24]


1 Taylor, Barbara E.; Chait, Richard P.; Holland, Thomas P. “The New Work of Nonprofit Boards.” Harvard Business Review, September-October, 1996.

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