Local Government Innovation & Redesign

To support local government redesign efforts and recognize the innovative work already underway, the Public and Nonprofit Leadership Center has partnered with state associations to create the Local Government Innovation & Redesign Guide and host a yearly Local Government Innovations Awards ceremony.

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Response to Nonprofit Quarterly article with Paul Light

One major problem with having nonprofit leaders and infrastructure organizations like Independent Sector being the primary source for solutions to governance issues is that you aren't likely to get a very critical view of either the sector or governance. The sector has an amazing ability to "circle the wagons" when criticism hits, almost appearing shocked that anyone outside the sector could possibly question its actions, much less provide solutions.
I might add that researchers deserve a place at the table. A lot of what gets proposed has no basis in the research -- does it matter if a board has 45 members or 20? No. Does it matter if boards meet once a year or monthly? No. Each of these can be qualified, but you get the picture.

I agree with a lot of what Light says in this interview -- for example, the need to de-emphasize fundraising functions of boards. Research tells us that if you recruit for fundraising, you will get a board that fundraises but not much else -- see Urban Institute 2006 survey of nonprofit boards. I also agree that we need to "fight" more over different notions of board governance. We take a lot for granted in our models for boards. Aside from meeting the legal requirement that nonprofits (and for-profit corporations) have a board -- what are they good for? We could "fight" about that.

I wish he had spent more time on the question of "what good governance produces." There are two critical accountability questions facing nonprofits -- accountable to whom? and, for what? Most discussion focuses on the first question but I think more attention needs to be paid to the second. Boards and governance more generally play a critical role here -- questions of organizational, program, and managerial effectiveness (broader than simply "results") must be addressed in a nonprofit governance system. And, they are very difficult to answer. We are getting there in terms of research but we have a long way to go.

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