Design thinking and capacity building are on a hot date.
When you pair what neuroscientists are learning about how the brain works, with what organizational development gurus say are key roles for nonprofit board members, what do you get? Better board training, and the potential for more effective nonprofit boards.
Imagine being frustrated that the majority of nonprofit board members in a state are not receiving important information about even their most basic roles and responsibilities, placing their nonprofits at a disadvantage. Then think about the common barriers that prevent board members from accessing this vital information: how busy volunteersdon’t have timeto attend special board educational programs, and how small-budget organizationsdon’t have fundsto pay for board training programs. Now imagine approaching this problem from a “human centered designperspective,” which recognizes that adults learn more easily from their peers in enjoyable settings – such as when playing games.
Enter Nancy Bacon, the Director of Learning atWashington Nonprofits, who approaches problem solving, and nonprofit organizational development, from a design thinking perspective. When creating an entirely new approach to nonprofit board education, Nancy brought together a design team consisting of an education expert, a content expert, and a communications expert, to create an entirely new approach to nonprofit board education:Boards in Gear. The result? Board “training” that motivates busy board members to learn about their roles and responsibilities in the three places people learn: on their own, with their peers, and in classrooms.Nancy’s blog describes how she developed this fresh approach to board training.
A fresh look at “digital data”
“Data” is just a fancy word for “information,” right? And “digital” is just a fancy word for information stored on, or communicated via computers. “Digital” is also a word that is being used increasingly instead of the expression “online,” as well as to describe the gap between those individuals who have access to the internet, and those who don’t (known as the “digital divide”). So, let’s take a fresh look at digital data, with a little help from our friends, shall we?
Leadership qualities needed for an unknown future – a fresh look
Perhaps you’ve heard someone use the acronym “VUCA” to describe the world today:Volatile,Uncertain,Complex andAmbiguous. It takes a certain kind of leader to look into the future of such a rapidly-changing world: someone who has the ability to articulate a vision, bring understanding to uncertainty, and provide clarity from what is complex and ambiguous.
Hiring the right leaders and looking through a strategic lens become imperative in a VUCA world. Sheila Bravo, the CEO of theDelaware Alliance for Nonprofit Advancement,makes the casethat nonprofit boards that collectively are watchful, agile, and intentional in shifting strategies will be in a strong position to help their organizations be sustainable despite an uncertain future. Sheila also shares insights about the all-important relationship between board chair and CEO. As Sheila sees it, for a nonprofit organization to survive and be sustainable, “It takes two to make things go right.”
In Alaska, the state association of nonprofits,The Foraker Group, led by Laurie Wolf, urges nonprofits to prepare for an uncertain future: “...know who you are and where you are going. Make values-based decisions – this applies to every decision from programming, to staffing, to board composition, to budgeting.” Laurie’srecent blog postreminds us of the strong force that nonprofits can be – together – by using our voices and working together to solve problems, and by maintaining our values-based approach.
In Oklahoma, Marnie Taylor, president and CEO of theOklahoma Center for Nonprofits, reminds nonprofit leaders that, “as nonprofits, it is our duty to inform, educate, enlighten and empower through our missions.” Marnie leaned on her personal experience serving on boards of nonprofits while recommending in herrecent columnthat nonprofits should make advocacy and education a part of the culture and values of the nonprofit. Especially when situations are complex and challenging, and the future is unknown (such as the currentstate budget crisis in Oklahoma), that’s when nonprofits should "encourage board members to utilize their own spheres of influence” and “work hard to engage all board members, staff, volunteers, and consumers in the advocacy process.”
These leaders collectively have shared some powerful tips about leading in a “VUCA” environment. For more tips, see the sidebar.
About the Executive Director Peer Network of the Capital Region...
The "ED Peer Network" offers offers opportunities for education, networking, professional development and peer support to nonprofit leaders in Albany, Rensselaer, Saratoga and Schenectady Counties.
Mary Seeley, Equinox Christopher Burke, Unity House of Troy Maggie Fronk, Domestic Violence and Rape Crisis Services of Saratoga County Ray Schimmr, Parsons Child & Family Center Lisa Frisch, The Legal Project Michelle McClave, The AIDS Council of Northeastern New York Robert Stevens, Literacy Volunteers-Mohawk/Hudson, Inc. Rowie Taylor, YWCA of Schenectady Doug Sauer, New York Council of Nonprofits