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Most literature on trusteeship can be fairly categorized as either prescriptive or hortatory. There is little, if any, vibrant debate about what constitutes governance. The floor seems open primarily to relatively lifeless discussions about how to govern. Rather than challenge fundamental and popular notions—the very method that has advanced knowledge about leadership and organization—the tendency with governance has been to clarify and codify conventional practice. The con-
versation centers more around lists of “dos and don’ts” than around compelling or competing concepts of governance. While the concept of leadership has been illuminated, the concept of trusteeship has remained comparatively dim.
Given the very different epistemologies of leadership (and, by extension, organizations) on the one hand, and governance on the other hand, one might never guess that both stem from the same conceptual headwaters. Leadership theory runs swift and deep, the river banks crowded with animated commentators and interested observers. Governance theory trickles along the shallower backwaters; it attracts little notice and even fewer devotees. One stark statistic highlights the disparity: Barnes & Noble (Barnes & Noble, 2004) lists 27,220 books with the keyword “leader” or “leadership,” compared to 2,349 with the keyword “trustee,”“trusteeship,” or “governance”—a 12:1 ratio.
Despite the differential output, leadership and governance are closely related, and the more clearly this linkage is seen, the brighter the prospects will be for better nonprofit governance. It is in this spirit that we treat governance and leadership not as separate stories that shape two distinct areas of practice, but as two intertwined plot lines in a much larger story about modern nonprofit organizations. We do not invent new theories about leadership or organizations; rather, we use these theories as catalysts to produce new concepts and practices about nonprofit governance. We turn next to who might find this larger story and these new notions of interest.
All three authors of this book are students of governance, consultants to boards, and trustees of nonprofit organizations. And at one time or another, we all worked as full-time administra-
tors in not-for-profit institutions. Based on these experiences, we can explore governance from several angles and address the interests and concerns of people in all four of these roles.
While we aim to engage the interests of scholars and board consultants, the target audiences for this book are the nonprofit trustees, CEOs, and senior staff who meet Donald Schon’s definition of reflective practitioners: people who “often think about what they are doing, sometimes even while doing it” (1983).These individuals, Schon continues:
turn thought back on action and on the knowing which is implicit in action... There is some puzzling, or troubling, or interesting phenomenon with which the individual is trying to deal.As he tries to makes sense of it, he also reflects on the understandings which have been implicit in his action, understandings which he surfaces, criticizes, restructures, and embraces in further action (1983).
In other words, this book will appeal most to nonprofit trustees and executives inclined not just to do governance, but to understand it as well—not to gain knowledge for its own sake but because they realize that a better understanding of governance leads to governing better. This, in turn, circles back to deeper understanding.As David Smith observed in Entrusted:The Moral Responsibilities of Trusteeship, effective boards “must become a reflective community of interpretation” where trustees “can and do talk seriously about organizational purpose” (1995) and, we would add, about the nature of governance. Conversely, trustees and staff who regard governing as little more than bright people using common sense and doing what comes naturally probably need read no further.
This book takes trustees and trusteeship seriously.We believe that board members want more than simple recipes for better
trusteeship (for example, strengthen standing committees), deserve more than menus of maxims (for example, the board sets policy that management implements), and need more than a governance maven’s advice du jour (for example, place the organization’s mission statement on the back of business cards for trustees). Based on extensive personal experience with nonprofit boards throughout the sector, we are confident that trustees, with remarkably few exceptions, can understand and apply new thinking about governance. Governance does not need to be oversimplified; most board members—as professionals, executives, or community leaders—have already demonstrated the ability to grasp new ideas and handle complex situations.
Perhaps the greatest value will accrue to boards of trustees that read this book in tandem with their organization’s CEO and then consider together what changes would improve the quality and centrality of institutional governance. Boards and CEOs are intertwined and interdependent. And while power struggles between the board and the chief executive officer may grab the headlines, more collaborative governance partners generally grab the brass ring. We do not advance here more precise delineations of the relative power and exclusive provinces of boards and executives. Countless efforts to do so have yielded either no fruit or bitter fruit because attempts to redistribute formal authority between the board and the CEO usually precipitate a zero-sum stalemate. However, initiatives to expand leadership opportunities for the board and the CEO, as we propose, promote better governance. At worst, challenges will not arise when a board or a CEO has too much authority, but rather when an organization has abundant sources of leadership to tap—a problem most nonprofits would welcome gladly.