The steps in Governing for What Matters are simple.
First, define what matters most - the organizations
vision, mission and values. Then put the vision, mission and values into
Putting vision, mission and values into action happens
in two ways:
1) Through annual planning
(and monitoring of that plan)
2) Through policies and directives - the
boards day-to-day work
Policies and directives, as shown in Part 2 of this
article, can accomplish a great deal. But they can only accomplish so much if
the work of the board is not rooted in the creation (and subsequent monitoring)
of an annual plan that aims the organizations work at the difference it intends
to make in the community.
Planning for What
Creating an annual plan is the only way a board can
proactively lead an organization - the only way the board can ensure it is not
always putting out fires.
When a board is Governing for What Matters, that plan
will be aimed at creating significant, visionary improvement to the communitys
quality of life. Instead of focusing almost exclusively on trying to fix what
is wrong in our communities, the plan will aim at creating a GREAT place to
live. It will then address what is wrong on the way to creating something
From there, the plan will ensure the organization has
everything it needs to get the job done. And it will further aim at preventing
undue risk and liability that can eat away at that capacity - the kinds of
things board members worry about (or would worry about if they understood those
In other words, the plan will provide a system by
which the board can hold itself accountable for the highest potential of
governance - leading and guiding on behalf of the community's highest
aspirations. And that same plan will further provide a system by which the
board can hold itself accountable for the legal oversight and operational
oversight that ensure the organization can get the job done.
Yes, all that in a single plan. If it sounds easy,
thats because it is. Because if it is NOT easy, boards will not do it.
Vision-Based Community Impact
If a board is planning for What Matters Most, it is
not creating the traditional nonprofit strategic plan. It is also
not creating an organization-focused business plan. Further, it
is not considering the current situation via an environmental
scan, a SWOT analysis or any other analysis of the current situation, as the
context for moving forward.
Because when we tether our plans to today (via
traditional planning processes and their precursor analyses - SWOT and etc.),
those plans are, in fact, tethered to what we do not like about today. As we
try to find a way to move away from those negative circumstances, that tether
keeps us anchored there.
If, however, a board is planning to create the future
for the people it directly serves and for its community, then the tether point
of that plan will be that positive, inspiring image of success - the future it
is planning to create for its community. That will be the measure of the
organizations success. And the plan will be anchored in (and therefore pulled
along by) that positive vision.
When a board annually considers that proactive
planning focus, and then monitors its progress throughout the year, board
members will have a system by which to hold themselves accountable for all four
of the boards functions - those focused on ends and those focused on means.
Vision-Based Community Impact Planning has three
phases - and a fourth if we include year-round monitoring of progress:
Phase 1: Focusing on the Community
Phase 2: Focusing on the Interaction
between the Community and the Organization
Phase 3: Focusing on the Organization
Phase 4: Year round monitoring of
progress and results
Focusing on the Community
We are creating the future, every
day, whether we do consciously or not. And Governing for What Matters Most is
all about creating that future for the community.
Vision-Based Community Impact Planning begins by
defining the future we want to create for our communities. That extraordinary
future becomes the context of the plan, the ultimate goal at the end of the
path. And that future is defined in the organizations vision statement.
Our vision is a community
The path leading towards that vision is then created
by determining the cause-and-effect community conditions that will lead to that
future. If cause and effect brought us to where we are today, then cause and
effect will create the path to the future we want for our communities.
What conditions need to be in place in our community
for the future in our Vision Statement to become reality? And what
pre-conditions will lead to those conditions? And so on.
As the group works its way backwards from the future
it intends to create, stepping closer and closer to today's reality, the board
finds it has created a practical path to the future it has envisioned.
We call this simple, practical and highly realistic
process Reverse Engineering the Future of Our Communities.
2: Points of Interaction between the Future of the Community and the
Phase 1 focused entirely on the community and
the future. Phase 2 will focus on the next 12-24 months, defining how the
organization will begin to effect that community improvement.
What bite could the organization take out of those
cause and effect conditions in the next 12-24 months? What steps will the
organization take to begin changing those conditions? And how will the
organization measure to determine if its efforts are working?
How can engaging others enhance that effort? And who
might the organization engage?
Does the board and staff have enough information to
get started? Are there things the board and/or staff need to learn?
How do the organizations current programs fit into its
vision and the conditions it intends to create in the community? (Do they
perhaps go counter to that vision?)
These are the sorts of questions that tether the
organizations current work to its vision of success - the future
the organization wishes to create in the community.
And the answers to those questions will become the
goals and objectives the organization will address in the next 12-24 months.
Focusing on the Organization
Just as organizations do not
traditionally plan for creating vibrant, healthy, compassionate communities,
organizations also do not traditionally plan for creating overall
organizational health and wellness.
Instead, organizational planning tends to focus on
what is on fire, typically addressing board problems or fundraising weaknesses
or perhaps a critical need for increasing staffing.
When plans do focus on building strength, they focus
on building marginal strength. It is not unusual to hear, We have needed 5
positions for over a year now. We will add one position this year, and
hopefully find funding for 2 more next year and the year after...
It is also not unusual to hear, "We need to
significantly increase our fundraising results. But it is unrealistic to plan
for more than a 5% increase, so that is what we will plan for - a 5% increase."
The rare exception to building marginal strength is a
capital campaign. However even that proactive step is often, in fact, reactive,
taking place long after the group has been busting at the seams. And even a
proactive capital campaign does not address overall organizational health.
Organizations dont plan for overall strength, overall
They plan to get by.
But when the goal is nothing short of creating an
extraordinary future for our communities, getting by simply will not get the
Vision-Based Community Impact Planning therefore ends
by asking, "What do we need to have in place to ensure every function of the
organization is healthy enough for us to create the kind of community we dream
Every single organizational function.
Personnel and facilities. Regulatory compliance and
equipment maintenance. Resource development and board development. Community
engagement and internal financial controls.
Everything. The organization plans to ensure each and
every functional aspect is strong enough to take on the challenge of creating
the future of the community.
Monitoring Progress and Results
Vision-Based Community Impact
Planning aims at the future an organization will be working to create for its
community. It focuses on how the organization will interact with the Community
to bring that change about. And it then focuses on ensuring the organizations
infrastructure is strong enough to take on that challenge.
And all of that is for naught if the board is not
monitoring the progress of the plan, and measuring its success in accomplishing
When your board creates a Vision-Based Community
Impact Plan each year, and then monitors progress and adjusts at every meeting,
your board is proactively addressing all four aspects of governance -
Leadership, Legal Oversight, Operational Oversight, and Board Mechanics.
Your board will be addressing issues of Legal and
Operational Oversight, not reactively, but proactively. They will have
considered every functions needs (including financial controls and HR issues
and all the other risk management issues such oversight demands) and will be
monitoring to ensure those functional needs are addressed.
Your board will be holding itself accountable for
ensuring the Boards Mechanics are sound, as they address that function among
the many other operational functions in Phase 3.
Accountability is about ensuring things get done. And
that requires that boards both plan and monitor, on an ongoing basis, as the
very heart of their governance role.
Conclusion: Governing for What
When a board is Governing for What Matters Most, the board
is defining the difference it wants to make - the reason the organization
exists. It is defining its vision for the future of the community, the work it
will do to create that future (its mission), and the values the organization
will adhere to as it does its work.
The board is then ensuring its Vision, Mission and
Values are guiding all the boards decisions and actions - that The 3
Statements are indeed the context for every discussion the board has and
every vote it takes.
And finally, the board is proactively planning - and
then monitoring that plan - to ensure the organization has everything it needs
to aim at creating both the present AND the future of the community.
In the words of a board member of an organization we
helped guide to such governance, This isnt like other boards Ive been on. We
dont just push papers around. On this board, everything we discuss makes a
And that is what happens when a board is Governing for
What Matters Most.
To see the inspiring results
that are possible when a board is Governing for What Matters Most,