At the recent BoardSource Leadership Forum in Seattle, there was a lot of discussion about the results of a recent report, Leading with Intent: 2017 National Index of Nonprofit Board Practices. The report highlights findings related to the composition, culture, responsibilities, and impact of nonprofit boards. BoardSource collects data from chief executives and board chairs and breaks the data down to reveal the differences in responses. 

It is fascinating reading for those of us who are interested in organizational leadership, but there are also quick nuggets for busy board members who don’t have the time or the inclination to delve into the data. I would encourage you to download the full report, but I wanted to first whet your appetite with the key findings:

  1. Boards are no more diverse than they were two years ago and current recruitment priorities indicate this is unlikely to change. Despite reporting high levels of dissatisfaction with current board demographics — particularly racial and ethnic diversity — boards are not prioritizing demographics in their recruitment practices.

  2. Boards are starting to embrace their roles as advocates for their missions, but stronger leadership is still needed. More than half of all boards are actively working in concert with staff leadership to educate policymakers on behalf of their organization, but most organizations do not have formal policies around advocacy.

  3. Strong understanding of programs is linked to stronger engagement, strategy, and external leadership — including fundraising. The board’s knowledge of the organization’s programs relates to board performance in several key areas: strategic thinking and planning, commitment and engagement, and fundraising and community outreach.

  4. Boards that assess their performance regularly perform better on core responsibilities. Boards that assess themselves get higher grades across all areas of board performance.

  5. Chief executives and board chairs agree that the board has an impact on organizational performance, and that two particular board characteristics matter most: the board’s understanding of its roles and responsibilities and the board’s ability to work as a collaborative team toward shared goals. For both chief executives and board chairs, these two characteristics strongly correlate to their perceptions of the board’s overall impact on organizational performance.

The full report outlines not only what the study found in a variety of areas, but also why it matters. At the conference, we delved into the first finding and spent time discussing what we really need to move the needle on equality and inclusion on our boards. That topic deserves a discussion of its own, but for now I will leave you to slice and dice the Leading with Intent report. Happy reading!

Read more on the Leading with Intent findings.