A Moment for Mindful Governance
by Patricia Andrade, SVPGT Board Vice-chair and Governance committee chair
At SVPGT’s most recent board meeting, we dealt with some important agenda items, but then took time to further our own growth as individual board members and collectively as a governing body.
When we sent out our board meeting packet last week, we included an opinion piece from an issue of The Chronicle of Philanthropy published last summer. It was meant to stimulate discussion about governance practices, with the goal of elevating our own performance as a board. The piece, “Damage Done by a Culture of Deference: Leadership Lessons from the Penn State Tragedy,” written by a foundation executive, summarized the key points that boards could learn from the recent Penn State University debacle. Most importantly, the author argued, the board’s habits, processes, and systems – taken together, its culture – had inadvertently contributed to its failure to discharge its responsibilities. As boards, however, it’s not enough to claim that our failings were inadvertent. We must actively take steps to learn about good governance, to be aware of our board’s strengths and weaknesses, and then to build on our strengths and to mitigate our weaknesses in an intentional way.
Our conversation, while limited to 20 minutes, was thoughtful and wide-ranging. It was less about the Penn State case than it was about considering the formal and informal ways that SVPGT creates a culture of strong board leadership representing diverse perspectives. Ideas discussed ranged from ensuring that the Board/Executive Director partnership is open and appropriately balanced, to taking personal responsibility for being knowledgeable about all aspects of our fiduciary requirements (including the inner workings of our financial reporting). We decided that we will revisit our current board structure, in which our committee chairs are automatically board members, to see if it supports our desire to maximize opportunities for Partners to meaningfully participate in the leadership of the partnership.
Board meetings are usually jam-packed with important operational reports and strategic updates. These are the “bread and butter” of our work. But it’s essential to step back, regularly and purposefully, to assess (and challenge) our assumptions and practices. Much like we have to change up our workout routines periodically to move beyond our current fitness levels, it’s important for board members to invest time in learning how to be more effective leaders. I’m proud that our board is committed to its ongoing development.
By the way, if you’d like to read the article that inspired our discussion, click here.