Crowdsourcing your Board?

What if you didn't need a chair to have a 'seat at the table'?

While I wrote about some reflections on The Networked Nonprofit in December, it has taken me quite awhile longer to think through Chapter 11: Governing through Networks, where the authors make some recommendations about how integrating social media thinking, not just the tools, can improve the performance of Boards of Directors and, in the process, revitalize nonprofit organizations in some critical ways.

I’m not a governance expert, although I’ve certainly had a lot of experience with nonprofit Boards, as an employee, consultant, volunteer, and Board member. I’ve seen a few really effective Boards create powerhouse organizations that excel at achieving their mission, and many more lackluster Boards that fail to do much except eat the free lunch they’re given every month.

It’s the latter kind of Board that Kanter and Fine argue social media principles, such as transparency and equality and collaboration, can help to avoid. Importantly, this doesn’t mean just friending your current Board members on Facebook, but, instead, an emphasis on how to truly transform governance to make it more congruent with today’s social media climate of openness and fluidity.

This means, of course, that we stop looking only to the ‘usual suspects’ for potential Board members, and that we think, instead, about how members of our crowd can participate in shaping our organization’s future.

And I believe that this orientation to Board recruitment, development, and process could, in turn, create new kinds of nonprofit organizations that would, among other things, be more open to risk-taking and stand-making, which the nonprofit sector desperately needs.

The book is worth reading for Chapter 11 alone, really, especially if your current Board is anything less than spectacular. Here are a few of the authors’ key suggestions about how to begin to open up a Board within the social media space, with my commentary about the implications for creating advocacy-friendly nonprofits, too.

I want to hear from Board members, employees, volunteers, and students within nonprofit organizations. How does your Board currently operate, and what might applying some of these principles mean? What are your Board’s guiding imperatives today, and how might those change under a social media perspective? How would you crowdsource governance at your organization, if you could?

  • Include your Board members in a public social network: While it’s not the end of the process, making sure that your Board members play an active role in your organization’s online presence can help to communicate your mission and objectives (and, for example, policy priorities) while also providing a vehicle for others to weigh in.
  • Create an open invitation to Board meetings: It always baffles and alarms me when students say that they’re not invited to even participate in their own agency’s meetings. What’s the big secret? I can’t help but hope that organizations would take stronger stances on advocacy issues, in particular, if they had to do so with clients and the public listening.
  • Post draft agendas online: Your crowd, including donors, volunteers, and clients, will be much more engaged in conversations about how you can enhance your work if they see a meaningful mechanism through which their participation will matter. Allowing the public to comment on Board agendas won’t generate a groundswell of retweets, certainly, but those who do care will know that you do, too.
  • Make sharing the default: Instead of expending energy trying to keep things private, Boards should be oriented towards opening up real conversations with their stakeholders, not in controlled bursts but as part of a larger dialogue about the change they want to be in the world. This may mean, as the authors suggest, meeting outside of the Board room (like your state capitol, during the session!), or including online participatory tools in your strategic planning process, or having ad-hoc or standing committees that include not just Board members but also interested members of the public, or inviting leaders and clients to interface with your Board, or asking for Board nominations through social media channels, or…all of the above.

    Aren’t the functions of a real nonprofit Board–setting the course, monitoring the progress, providing the tools–too important to be left to just the Board?

  • One response to “Crowdsourcing your Board?

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