Why It’s Important: The Fear of Ceding Control

Why It’s Important: The Fear of Ceding Control

Strengthening boards is an ongoing task. Acknowledging what needs to be done is only the first step.

As Martin Levine asks in NP Quarterly, Diversifying Boards Means Ceding Control – Are White Nonprofit Leaders Ready? It’s an important question, because all the best intentions can be stymied by unconscious fear and discomfort.

Boards react to the realization — or accusations — of a lack of diversity by adding new and ‘different’ board members. Then they wonder why these individuals leave.

Creating a board that reflects the community can’t be the first step. Planning is crucial.

Anticipate that board dynamics may need to change. If you generally govern by consensus, how will you foster the diversity of opinions and ideas that a more diverse board will bring? How will you give the new voices as much weight as the voices of returning board members? How will you include the newer board members in substantive committees, and educate the chairs on dealing with those they might perceive as ‘disrupters’?

Create the conditions for success.

Acknowledge that board dynamics – and control – may need to change, and consider these questions before bringing on new and ‘different’ board members.

Want to talk about having these conversations? Get in touch and we can see what it means for YOUR organization.

And if you see an article that you think it’s important, send it on so we can all benefit from your thoughts. More eyes, more sharing, more knowledge all around!

Susan Detwiler

Why It’s Important: No Tokens Allowed

Why It’s Important: No Tokens Allowed

When and Why Diversity Improves Your Board’s Performance

Why is this article important?  It has some interesting points to make about the difference between tokenism and really embracing diversity on a board.

The majority of people on nonprofit boards, acknowledge that board diversity is important. But even as research shows the intention to improve board diversity, the 2017 report, Leading with Intent, shows that “boards are no more diverse than they were two years ago.”* Meanwhile, as boards continue to talk about diversifying, the definition of what constitutes diversity has evolved.

From tokenism to inclusion

Society has moved from tokenism to ensuring that people of diverse age, gender, ethnicity, orientation and background not only fill important roles with their skills and talents, but are also valued for the diversity that they bring.

The perspective of this article from Harvard Business Review, When and Why Diversity Improves Your Board’s Performance,  is that of a for-profit corporation. But there are valuable lessons for nonprofit boards that want to both encourage diversity and take advantage of that diversity. To quote the authors:

“Diversity doesn’t matter as much on boards where members’ perspectives are not regularly elicited or valued. To make diverse boards more effective, boards need to have a more egalitarian culture — one that elevates different voices, integrates contrasting insights, and welcomes conversations about diversity.”

What might that mean for your Governance or Nominating Committee? More pointedly, what might that mean for how your board approaches ambitious or controversial decisions? How might having different voices around the table change not only the decisions that you make, but how you make those decisions?

If this article has started some conversations, or even caused some deep thinking about governance and recruitment, please let me know.

And watch for more curated articles. If you see an article you think everyone should read, please send it on. Or if you want to talk about facilitation, governance or planning for your organization, I’d love to have that conversation.

More eyes – more articles – more wisdom!

– Susan Detwiler

*Leading With Intent 2017 National Index of Nonprofit Board Practices.

Why It’s Important: Black Women Are Coming for Equity

Why It’s Important: Black Women Are Coming for Equity

The title Black Women are Coming for Equity in Non-Profit Quarterly drew me in. As I read it, I kept hearing in my head, “This is important. This is important for traditional nonprofit boards to read.” Articulating why it’s important is a little harder than recognizing the importance.

I suspect that many older board members – like me – will have experienced in one way or another the civil rights movement, or the times when gay rights was front page fodder, or perhaps the introduction of the Equal Rights Amendment.

Are these memories of the past coloring how we understand and react to the current movements that honor the lived experience of those who differ from us?

Cyndi Suarez’ example of Senator Bernie Sanders’ speech and his interaction with the participants at the She the People presidential forum can be a learning tool. How are our experiences of the past coloring our understanding of the present? Are we leaning too heavily on our memories and assuming we know the present? Do we understand the difference between equal rights and equity?

If this article has started some conversations, or even caused some deep thinking about how we govern our nonprofits and prepare for the future, please let me know.

And watch for more curated articles. If you see an article you think everyone should read, please send it on. Or if you want to talk about facilitation, governance or planning for your organization, I’d love to have that conversation.

More eyes – more articles – more wisdom!

Susan Detwiler

Boards: What headwinds are your clients facing?

Boards: What headwinds are your clients facing?

When you travel from New York to London, the shortest flight is about 6 hours and 45 minutes.  When you return, the shortest flight is an hour longer.  Flying east, we have tailwinds helping us along. Flying west, we’re pushing against headwinds.

Every time we make a plan, we’re also making assumptions. Some assumptions are simple and pretty universal – we all experience headwinds and tailwinds in flight.

But other times we are making assumptions based on our own experiences, sometimes unaware of the headwinds and tailwinds that are helping and hindering us.

For example, if you ask me how far the nearest Target store is, I’ll answer that it’s about 10 minutes from my home. Unconsciously, I’m assuming you have a car. If my neighbor doesn’t have a car, it will typically take over an hour – walk to the bus stop, take a bus several miles in the opposite direction from Target, so he can change to the bus that will take him there.

My tailwind is that I have a car and enough money to pay the insurance and fill the tank. His headwind is that he doesn’t have a car. Worse, he also has the headwind that he’s working two jobs, so the time it takes to get to Target is an even greater chunk out of his free time than it would be from mine. He’s flying west, while I’m flying east.

Estimating based on our own personal experience is natural.

It takes conscious effort to parse out the advantages and obstacles – tailwinds and headwinds – that make up our personal experience, so we can more clearly see the advantages and obstacles of others.

When we makes plans, our first inclination is to think about what works for us. What do we like, what resources do we have – time, cash, knowledge – that we can employ.  Planning based on our own experience may work if everyone is just like us – same background, same experiences, same resources.

But our clients, patrons, staff members and visitors are not all the same.

To successfully serve the community, we have to consciously find ways to understand our clients’, patrons’, staff members’ and visitors’ experiences. Not just what the headwinds (and tailwinds) are, but also their ramifications. I may have known that my neighbor didn’t have a car; that doesn’t mean I understood what the implications were when it came to shopping and the decisions they force you to make. If you have to go through that much trouble to shop at Target, then it may make sense to pay the higher prices at the local bodega. The ramifications of one situation affect the next, which affect the next.

Before digging into the myriad of experiences of clients, patrons, staff and visitors, take time to consider the headwinds you’ve encountered growing up and getting to where you are in life. Then stop and consider all the tailwinds that have helped you on your way – the mentors, the education, sustenance, the visits to cultural institutions.

Which of these are universal? Which are uniquely yours? Which make you wonder about the tailwinds and headwinds of others?

To schedule a time to explore your board and staff headwinds and tailwinds, reach Susan Detwiler at sdetwiler@detwiler.com or www.detwiler.com.

Weak Ties, Strong Boards, and Finding Resources

Weak Ties, Strong Boards, and Finding Resources

How well did you know the other people on your board before they (or you) joined?

Were you good friends? Did you live near each other? Did you work together? If you’ve read this blog for a while, you’ll probably expect me to tell you – again – that boards need diversity.  It helps with innovation, it avoids tokenism, it promotes sustainability.

I’m not the only one writing about it. Many studies, like here and here, show that diversity increases the success of a group or an organization. Whether we say we need diverse viewpoints, diverse backgrounds, diverse experiences, or diverse voices, it all translates into this: groups perform better in the long run if they are not homogeneous.

Network analysis gives us an insight into why this might be especially true when it comes to finding knowledge and resources.

Mark Granovetter posited that information flows through weak ties more than through strong ties. If you travel in the same circles and have the same friends, you are said to have strong ties with each other. If you happen to know someone whose circle is different, but don’t interact frequently with them, you are said to have weak ties.

These acquaintances are exposed to different ideas and different information than you are. So when you interact with these acquaintances, you are then exposed to new information that your strong ties do not have.  In the words of Skye Bender-deMoll,

“although your close friend may work harder to help you get a new job, it is likely to be an acquaintance that actually gets you a useful lead.”

Let’s extrapolate that to your organization. If most of the board travels in the same circles, their knowledge of resources is more likely to be similar than when members of the board come from diverse communities.

But if different members of the board have different networks, they bring those networks with them when they come to the board table. Along with their different experiences, they bring different knowledge and different entrees to resources.

As boards emerge from the founding stage, they tend to seek people with ‘deep pockets,’ implying that money is the only resource that matters. However, dollars are only one kind of resource; they are often a proxy for the resources that are really needed. They seek dollars because dollars can buy the resources that are needed to fulfill the mission: staff, rent, supplies. But resources come in many forms: community good will, contacts with particular skills, potential clients, individuals with elbow grease, advocates in different communities.

In many cases, the tangible resources themselves are available, without having to expend dollars – if you have the contacts that can bring them in.

By diversifying the composition of your board, you increase the number of weak ties for your organization. Weak ties multiply the opportunities for finding and developing resources that make it possible to fulfill your mission.

Why is diversity on your board important? More voices, more viewpoints, AND MORE KNOWLEDGE AND RESOURCES.

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From Diversity to Inclusion through Real Conversations

From Diversity to Inclusion through Real Conversations

What does it take to build inclusion instead of diversity?

I started this weekend with a tentative blog post, but when I watched this video I was blown away. I have to share it.

This conversation among inclusion and leadership consultants Desiree Lynn Adaway and Ericka Hines, facilitated by Creating the Future founder, Hildy Gottlieb, is one of the most impactful and inspirational conversations I’ve watched. At an hour long (less if you listen at 1.25X), it is both thought provoking and inspiring….and a little daunting to contemplate.

  • What does it take to move a company, a house of worship, a government department, a nonprofit organization, a community from giving lip service to diversity to being inclusive?
  • What does it make possible when you do make that move?
  • What do people need to understand, to be assured of, to feel, in order for them to make that move?

What would it make possible for your organization if YOU make that move? What would you need to have in place to make that possible?