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Jewish Federations Mobilize to Support Detroit Community Following Historic Flooding

Following historic flooding in Detroit, Michigan, the Jewish community is mobilizing to provide much-needed support. ...

Following historic flooding in Detroit, Michigan, the Jewish community is mobilizing to provide much-needed support. The Jewish Federations of North America opened a mailbox and online donation fund to ensure that those in need receive emergency aid. Those interested in donating online can do so here. Continuing reading about the flood and assistance provided by Jewish Family Service of Metropolitian Detroit here.

Jewish Federations Mobilize to Support Detroit Community Following Historic Flooding, August 26, 2014, JFNA

Distinguishing a Board’s Steering and Rowing Work

As described in the book Governance as Leadership: Reframing the Work of Nonprofit Boards, to govern comprehensively,...

As described in the book Governance as Leadership: Reframing the Work of Nonprofit Boards, to govern comprehensively, boards work in three modes: fiduciary, strategic, and generative. To use a metaphor in which an organization is a boat, boards can make two distinct types of contributions: steering and rowing.

When steering, the board collectively:

    Sets the direction of the organization;
    Determines which values and logic will guide it; and
    Ensures the organization’s resources are used prudently to advance its work.

When rowing, board members individually or collectively expand the organization’s resources by, among other things:

    Offering pro bono professional services or expertise to management;
     Volunteering as front-line service providers;
    Advocating for or championing the organization and its mission in the community; and
    Helping to raise funds to sustain the organization’s work.

It can be useful to distinguish steering and rowing by using a substitution test. Rowing work is substitutable. The board does not need to contribute to the organization’s resources, financial or otherwise, as long as it is satisfied they are adequate. For example, a foundation whose board does no fundraising because of its large endowment is not necessarily ungoverned. Given the assets of the organization, the board is simply not called on to do such work.

In contrast, steering work is not substitutable. An organization whose board is not steering may be led by its executives, and may be influenced by other stakeholders, but it is not legitimately governed unless its board deliberates and makes intentional choices regarding the organization’s values, strategies, and performance. (When it comes to oversight of management, boards are non-substitutable not just on legitimacy grounds but also as a matter of practicality: by definition, management cannot oversee itself.)

It is also useful to consider individual versus collective contributions. A single board member or several board members working in an individual capacity can be effective as rowers. In raising funds, doing outreach or working as front-line volunteers, the choice to work alone or in groups can simply be a matter of efficiency, convenience, or preference. But governing is a collective act. Not only do most legal regimes require the boards of nonprofit organizations to include at least several members, but the logic of strategic and generative governing, as proposed in Governance as Leadership, insists on it. It takes a group to test, challenge, and debate the assumptions and subjective preferences that are at the core of this governing work.

Organizations will vary as to how much of which work—rowing or steering—their boards routinely do. The framework below depicts four organizational profiles. The board’s steering contributions run from low to high (left to right) on the horizontal axis. Its rowing contributions run from low to high (bottom to top) on the vertical axis.

To take an example: An organization whose board does a great deal of fundraising and outreach on its behalf, but is relatively uninvolved in setting strategy or monitoring performance, would be in the “Helping” quadrant (high on the vertical board axis and left on the horizontal governing axis).

Note that the “High Performing” quadrant—in which a board is governing while also generating resources—is not the only optimal spot for an organization. Depending on an organization’s circumstances, the “Guiding” quadrant might be appropriate. For example, a professionalized organization with reliable revenue sources, an ample endowment, and a high profile may need no board assistance in these areas, and could therefore be justifiably low on the rowing axis. But it would still need governing. In the “Guiding” quadrant, the board does little rowing but is still steering.

From a governing perspective, the “Lagging” and “Helping” quadrants are suboptimal because, in both cases, the board is doing little steering. The “Helping” quadrant can be especially problematic. It is easy for boards in this quadrant to mistake their productivity as rowers—raising funds, doing outreach, or lending expertise to management—for effectiveness as steerers.

Distinguishing a Board’s Steering and Rowing Work, January 20, 2012, Nonprofit Quarterly, by William Ryan

Nonprofit Leadership Development Is a Vital Ingredient for Social Change

Many economists say the U.S. economic recovery will stay in the slow lane until American companies finally step up ca...

Many economists say the U.S. economic recovery will stay in the slow lane until American companies finally step up capital spending on things like equipment and technology.

But corporate America is definitely opening up its wallet for one purpose: Spending on training and leadership development by U.S. companies grew by 15 percent in 2013, to more than $70-billion, according to a recent study. That followed two years of growth, at 10 percent or higher, in such spending in 2011 and 2012.

While business is investing in its people with renewed vigor, the nonprofit world continues to lag in making such investments. The Foundation Center recently reported that foundation support for leadership development was less than 1 percent of overall giving from 1992 to 2011. That’s not nearly enough.

We all know that programs and strategies don’t solve problems; people do. So why aren’t more foundations making leadership development an integral part of their grant-making strategies?

If we agree that strong leadership is crucial to the success of the nonprofits we support, what is keeping us from maximizing the impact of our funding by investing more in the skills and capabilities of people who lead organizations, including staff and board members?

At the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund, our trustees strongly support leadership development, based on their experience in both the corporate and philanthropic worlds and their intuitive understanding of the importance of investing in people.

We dedicate 10 to 12 percent of our annual grant making to strengthening leadership. Since 2005, the Haas Leadership Initiative has made mote than $18-million in multiyear grants to more than 100 nonprofits working in the fund’s priority areas of immigrant rights, education equity, and gay and lesbian rights.

We have seen time and again in our work how these investments have contributed to grantee impact and success.

Consider the case of the National Center for Lesbian Rights. Over five years, the center received $834,500 in support from the Haas, Jr. Fund, including $235,000 dedicated to strengthening the organization’s leadership.

The flexible, multiyear funding amounted to about $50,000 annually, which the center used for consulting, coaching, training, and other activities to build and strengthen its leadership.

Among the important results of this work is that the center, which previously relied on two overstretched leaders to run everything, was able to build a strong and collaborative senior staff team of five people

Relieved of many of the internal management responsibilities that had occupied so much of their time in years past, the organization’s executive director, Kate Kendell, and its legal director, Shannon Minter, have become even more powerful forces in the movement for marriage equality for same-sex couples. And the center is widely recognized as a critical player in the movement’s recent wins.

The National Center for Lesbian Rights is not an isolated case. An independent, five-year evaluation of the Haas, Jr. Fund’s early leadership investments showed that our support helped leaders get better results for their organizations and movements. The evaluation also showed that many of our leadership grantees were able to complete successful executive transitions and that they experienced impressive budget growth despite the economic recession.

Of course, we are not alone in supporting nonprofit leadership. Many other foundations around the country have made investing in leadership a top priority.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation, for example, works to develop current and emerging leaders in government agencies and nonprofit organizations serving children and families around the country. The reason: Casey knows that its goal of improving conditions for kids requires building the skills of people to work together to untangle complex problems.

The Blue Shield of California Foundation is building a stronger network of organizations that serve domestic-violence survivors by investing in individual and organizational leadership through its Strong Field Project. And the Durfee Foundation, based in the Los Angeles area, has created a multifaceted sabbatical program that strengthens the leadership of boards and senior teams while giving executives a chance to recharge and renew their commitment to their work.

These foundations are investing in leadership to advance their broader ambitions, and they are committing substantial grant-making resources to this work. While each foundation’s leadership-development approach is distinctive, they all share attributes that our experience suggests are important.

Chief among these is that leadership support is multiyear and is tailored to each organization’s priorities and needs; in other words, this is not about a foundation coming in and telling grantees what to do.

Nor is it simply about sending executive directors to one-time training sessions. Rather, it is about helping organizations identify and secure the leadership support they need at all levels so they can reach their broader goals.

I am not one who believes nonprofits and foundations should indiscriminately follow the strategic expertise of business. However, when the issue is leadership and talent, it’s worth taking a cue from the corporate world.

Unless we can figure out what is behind the nonprofit world’s chronic underinvestment in leadership and turn things around, we will continue to overlook one of the most important ingredients of positive social change. Investing in leadership doesn’t just deliver higher performance; it can also deliver a better, more equitable world.

Nonprofit Leadership Development Is a Vital Ingredient for Social Change, July 13, 2014, Chronicle of Philanthropy, by Ira Hirschfield