One of the first things I learned about when I began to get interested in the nonprofit sector and learn about career options was how the governance and leadership components of these organizations worked. Specifically, the concept of Executive Director and the Board of Directors, and how they both share control over the organization and play different roles in ensuring accountability and leadership. This is often the main conversation that is had regarding nonprofit leadership, and while it is an incredibly important piece of the governance puzzle there are so many other important leadership features that need attention and discussion. This week I had a few experiences that got me thinking about the various elements of leadership at play in nonprofits.
Firstly, this week was the quarterly Board meeting, a much anticipated event for the staff who has spent weeks preparing. This meeting was especially important given that Triangle Community Foundation is in the midst of a strategic planning process. While this discussion has been going on for months and lots of staff time and resources are being poured into this process, at the end of the day they needed the board to sign off on it before anything can move forward. To me, this was a strong example of what a powerful role they play in shaping the organization and its future. Thankfully the Board of the Foundation is incredibly supportive of their efforts and direction, but they still hold the ability to bar progress and change if they choose to.
The next experience that got me thinking about leadership from a completely different angle was a webinar I sat in on, called “The Color of Philanthropy.” This was a webinar focusing on leaders of color in nonprofit organizations, and how people of color (POC) led organizations, specifically in the south, need to be invested in and partnered with much more often. These organizations are ones with POC in top leadership positions internally or on boards, and often they are underfunded, overlooked, and generally underappreciated. The panelists did an amazing job of emphasizing how important racial justice work in the south is, and why it is so important for their organizations to attract national funders and begin building stronger and more equitable partnerships. Equity, diversity, and inclusion are imperative parts of any leadership discussion.
My final thought on leadership for this week is how leaders can really be found at any level of the organization. Following the Board meeting at the start of the week the Foundation’s President left town for vacation for a few days. Yet everything is continuing to operate smoothly in her absence. Everyone is stepping up where they need to, and continuing to work as they normally would. This is not to say Lori’s leadership is not important to the organization, but rather that leadership is more than just a position but really a characteristic that can emerge from anywhere within the organization.