Purpose-Driven Board Leadership
What is Purpose-Driven Leadership?
With perspectives that are informed by BoardSource’s years of work with nonprofit boards and executives, and by a wide range of researchers and thinkers in the field of social sector leadership, we recommend a shift toward a new way forward for nonprofit boards. In an important article in Stanford Social Innovation Review (SSIR), BoardSource introduced a new way of framing the nonprofit board’s role and issued a call for what we’ve termed “Purpose-Driven Board Leadership.” This form of leadership prioritizes purpose first-and-foremost, and offers a set of principles that can drive nonprofit board leadership and thinking.
The Importance of Purpose-Driven Leadership for Nonprofit Boards
At BoardSource, we believe it is time for real change in the way that board’s understand and embody their leadership. Too many boards are populated in a way that limits their ability to provide the kind of values-driven, strategic leadership and oversight that organizations need. This understanding has led us to think deeply about why that is and what it would take to change.
The Four Principles of Purpose-Driven Board Leadership
We are recommending that boards embrace the following four principles to drive leadership and thinking with a purpose-first mentality:
Principle 1: Purpose Before Organization
The prioritization of an organization’s purpose, and the problems it is trying to solve, versus the organization itself.
Principle 2: Respect for Ecosystem
An acknowledgment that an organization’s actions can positively or negatively impact its surrounding ecosystem, and a commitment to making choices that benefit, not just our organizations, but the entire ecosystem, and all of its players.
Principle 3: Equity Mindset
A commitment to advancing equitable outcomes, and interrogating and avoiding the ways in which the organization’s strategies and work may reinforce systemic inequities, and the willingness to dismantle any barriers that may have been created by organizational decisions in the past.
Principle 4: Authorized Voice and Power
The recognition that organizational power and voice must be informed and authorized by those impacted by the organization’s work.
How to Be a Purpose-Driven Leader
Purpose-driven board leadership makes explicit what is different about social sector governance (as opposed to corporate governance), as well as how traditional ways of thinking about nonprofit governance fail to acknowledge the unique charge of social sector organizations and the boards that lead them. This is more of a shift in thinking and orientation to the board’s role rather than a new model or board structure; a way of being versus a structure or set of technical practices.
Begin Your Board’s Transformation
At BoardSource, we believe that a large-scale move toward purpose-driven board leadership would address the very real challenges of boards as they currently exist; it would create an upswell of boards and organizations that are interconnected in their service to positive social impact and the communities they serve.
Will your board join us?
A Growing Conversation about Purpose-Driven Board Leadership
Reimagining Boards for High Impact
Marty Kooistra and Jane Wei-Skillern, PhD
Webinar: Reimagining Boards for High Impact
Marty Kooistra, Jane Wei-Skillern, PhD, Andy Davis
Eight Signs Your Board Might Be Dysfunctional
Kevin Bolduc & Phil Buchanan, The Center for Effective Philanthropy
Melinda Tuan, managing director of Fund for Shared Insight
Purpose-Driven Leadership – Lessons from GEO’s Racial Equity Journey
Marcus Walton, president and CEO of Grantmakers for Effective Organizations (GEO)
Purpose-Driven Board Leadership, Legally Speaking
Gene Takagi, principal of NEO Law Group and BoardSource board member
Re-Purposing Foundation Boards
Billy Shore Responds to Purpose-Driven Board Leadership Framework
Billy Shore, founder and executive chair of Share our Strength
Webinar: Purpose-Driven Board Leadership: Reconceiving Foundation Governance
Anne Wallestad, Phil Buchanan, Kofi Appenteng, Jim Canales
Webinar: The Four Principles of Purpose-Driven Board Leadership
Anne Wallestad, Jim Taylor, Andy Davis, Takita Battle
BoardSource thanks the many partners and colleagues whose input, thinking, and past work helped shape our thinking and make this article possible. This includes, but is not limited to, Jane Wei-Skillern’s work on Network Leadership and Networked Organizations, Forces for Good authors Heather McLeod Grant and Leslie Crutchfield, principles of Collective Impact as initiated by FSG Impact, the TCC Group’s work on Ecosystem Thinking and Relational Capacity, the Community-Engagement GovernanceTM Model and Engagement Governance Project, David Renz’s work on Reframing Governance, Fund for Shared Insight’s Listen4Good initiative, and many others.
Special thanks to the many colleagues and friends who provided direct input and feedback on this thinking and article as it took shape. This includes BoardSource staff and board colleagues Jim Taylor, Andrew Davis, Judy Reckelhoff, Jenifer Holland, Cathy Trower, Julia Wilson, Sherece West-Scantlebury, Gene Takagi, and Rick Moyers, as well as many colleagues in social sector leadership including (in alphabetical order) Kofi Appenteng, Phil Buchanan, Dan Cardinali, Chris Cardona, Monisha Kapila, Micah Parzen, Lindsay Louie, and others.