Has your board set a goal for the good you’ll do?
“How much better will our community be because of what we do?”
That doesn’t sound like a hard question, but for many boards it’s the toughest one to answer. And the most important.
When asked to set a goal for how they’ll enhance their community, too many boards hedge. It’s tempting to think about your organization only in terms of what you are – a community center or youth orchestra, for example. Boards adopting that viewpoint judge their effectiveness by limited standards: Did we conduct a range of interesting programs? Is our building well-maintained?
But the impact of that community center is much greater than its activities and buildings. It brings generations together. It’s a safe space where children and the elderly can thrive. It rekindles community spirit. These are the results that matter.
What do you want to achieve for your community?
One of my early clients, a community land trust, learned the power of that question first hand.
For many years, the board believed its primary purpose was to boost public support for land conservation. Although the land trust had protected five hundred acres in its first ten years, its only adopted goals were to expand membership and education programs.
Yet the directors were acutely aware that the last few farms and open spaces in their community were at risk from intense development pressures. So, during a strategic planning process, they asked themselves how, exactly, would more members and more awareness save land? Would the lands’ owners wait for these other activities to pay off?
With help from the prodding of several major supporters, we were able to get the board to shift their questions to ones of purpose and impact. Are we really making a difference? they asked. Are we doing enough?
Their answer was: We can do more! The board set a bold new goal – to permanently protect two thousand acres of land – nearly 10% percent of the community. They restructured the organization and produced astounding results. In the next four years, the land trust more than doubled its protected holdings, and today has surpassed its two thousand acre goal. And they have grown to be one of the most respected and professional land trusts in their region.
Too often, I meet boards that are extremely reluctant to quantify the community impact they’d like to make, fearing they’ll fall short of the goal.
Maybe you will. But as the renowned opera singer, the late Beverly Sills, once said,
“You may be disappointed if you fail, but you are doomed if you don’t try.”
Excerpted from Gayle’s new book How to Make Your Board Dramatically More Effective, Starting Today. Chapter 3.