A new way forward for nonprofit boards: BoardSource’s Call for “Purpose-Driven Board Leadership”

At BoardSource, we believe it is time for real change in the way that board’s understand and embody their leadership role. Too many boards are populated in a way that limits their ability to provide the kind of values-driven, strategic leadership and oversight that organizations need...
A new way forward for nonprofit boards: BoardSource’s Call for “Purpose-Driven Board Leadership”

A new way forward for nonprofit boards:
BoardSource’s Call for “Purpose-Driven Board Leadership”


At BoardSource, we believe it is time for real change in the way that board’s understand and embody their leadership role. Too many boards are populated in a way that limits their ability to provide the kind of values-driven, strategic leadership and oversight that organizations need. At BoardSource, that has led us to do deep thinking about why that is and what it would take to change.

In an important article in Stanford Social Innovation Review (SSIR), BoardSource’s CEO, Anne Wallestad, offers up a new way of framing the nonprofit board’s role, and a call for what we’ve termed “Purpose-Driven Board Leadership.” With perspectives that are informed by BoardSource’s years of research and work with nonprofit boards and executives, and informed by a wide range of leaders and thinkers in the field of social sector leadership, “Purpose-Driven Board Leadership” centers on four key principles that we believe should drive nonprofit board leadership and thinking:

Principle 1: Purpose before organization

The prioritization of an organization’s purpose, versus the organization itself.

Principle 2: Respect for ecosystem

An acknowledgment that an organization’s actions can positively or negatively impact its surrounding ecosystem, and a commitment to being a respectful and responsible ecosystem player.

Principle 3: Equity mindset

A commitment to advancing equitable outcomes, and interrogating and avoiding the ways in which the organization’s strategies and work may reinforce systemic inequities.

Principle 4: Authorized voice and power

The recognition that organizational power and voice must be authorized by those impacted by the organization’s work.

Purpose-driven board leadership makes explicit what is different about social sector governance (as opposed to corporate governance) and how more traditional ways of thinking about nonprofit governance fail to acknowledge the unique charge of social sector organizations and the boards that lead them. It is a shift in thinking and orientation to the board’s role versus a new model or board structure; a way of being and thinking versus a structure or set of technical practices.

At BoardSource, we believe that a large-scale move toward purpose-driven board leadership would not only address the very real challenges of boards as they currently exist; it would create an upswell of boards and organizations that are deeply connected and interconnected in their service to positive social impact and change in service to community.

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Read the Article in Stanford Social Innovation Review