With our country's growing awareness of its own deep and systemic inequities prompting long-overdue reflections about how institutions need to change, the social sector is asking important questions about who and what we need to be to advance progress. For example: are nonprofit boards, as they exist today, equipped to govern the social good organizations for which they are responsible?

Some believe boards are too flawed to be a part of the solution, but many more are hungry to enable boards to be the leadership bodies they need to be to advance and accelerate the social sector's potential for positive impact. As the leader of BoardSource, it is no surprise that I believe deeply in the importance and potential of nonprofit boards. However, BoardSource also believes that as they are currently operating, boards are not well-positioned to lead us toward a more equitable future as a society. That has led us to do deep thinking about why that is and what it would take to change.

We need to have a more explicit conversation about what a board's most essential work is and how board composition must shift to be able to support that critical work. And we need a new orientation to the board's leadership role, something that BoardSource describes as “Purpose-Driven Board Leadership,” a mindset characterized by four fundamental principles, mutually reinforcing and interdependent, that define the way that the board sees itself and its work:

  • Purpose before organization: prioritizing the organization's purpose, versus the organization itself.
  • Respect for ecosystem: acknowledging that the organization's actions can positively or negatively impact its surrounding ecosystem, and a commitment to being a respectful and responsible ecosystem player.
  • Equity mindset: committing to advancing equitable outcomes, and interrogating and avoiding the ways in which the organization's strategies and work may reinforce systemic inequities.
  • Authorized voice and power: recognizing that organizational power and voice must be authorized by those impacted by the organization's work.

Read the full article about purpose-driven board leadership by Anne Wallestad at Stanford Social Innovation Review.