The default nonprofit board model is archaic and toxic; let’s try some new models

[Image description: A conference room, with a long table surrounded by about 18 empty beige swivel chairs. Image by free-photos on]

Hi everyone, before we dive into today’s post, two quick announcements. My friend, the awesome Kishshana Palmer, and I are having an Instagram Live conversation, Rooted AF, tomorrow July 7th, at 5:30pm ET. These Live events are unscripted conversations where we discuss whatever is on our minds, so likely fundraising, philanthropy, equity, and Kish’s awesome new venture providing a supportive network for women of color.

Also, next week, July 13th, is the launch of the Community-Centric Fundraising (CCF) movement, as I wrote about here. It will kick off with a virtual event “Let’s Make Fundraising Less Racist” on 7/13 at 11am PST. The CCF Hub will launch on that day too; it’ll be a place to explore ways to fundraise that are aligned with racial and economic justice. Sign up here so we can send you the meeting link to the launch event and address to the Hub when they are ready.

OK, let’s talk about boards. First off, let me just say that I know lots of amazing people who serve on boards. Board members are volunteers who contribute time, money, talents, connections, and even the occasional shoulder to cry on during challenging moments. Without the awesome folks on my board, the two organizations that I was ED of would not have been nearly as successful. I am also currently serving on two boards of organizations I love. I know how hard boards and board members work, and we owe a lot to the brilliant board members out there who are helping us make the world better every day.

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Time for our sector to draw a new fish!

[Image description: Profile of a longhorn cowfish underwater. They are yellow with grey blotches and light turquoise blue dots. They have a big blue eye set beneath two little “horns.” They have a pouty light-colored mouth with a grey ring around it. One small diaphanous blue fin rises out of their lower back like a magnificent tramp stamp. Wow, this is the hardest image to describe ever. This is not an attractive fish. I hope they have a good personality…]

A while ago, I read about an experiment where kids were asked to draw a fish. One group was just told to draw a fish; the other group were told the same thing, but they were also given an example of a fish drawing someone else had drawn. The kids in the first group creatively drew all types of fish. The kids who were given the example, with few exceptions, drew fish that were very similar to the example. (I can’t seem to find this study or article again; if you know it, please put the link in the comment section).

I bring this up because it is yields a good lesson for all of us. And that lesson is: Flossing in an important part of good dental hygiene. OK, that’s not the lesson, but that’s still an important reminder. The lesson is that all of us in this sector have been given so many fish drawing examples—fundraising fish, capacity building fish, leadership fish, board governance fish, hiring fish, etc.—and they constantly and unconsciously affect how we think about and do everything.

If you think about it, so many of the things that we do are done a certain way because that’s just how someone else told us things should be done. There are few legal requirements. Which means most systems and practices are traditions that we pass down, and after a while, we just accept that that’s how we do them, the way the kids who were given a fish drawing example instantly assume that that’s the way a fish should be drawn.

Continue reading “Time for our sector to draw a new fish!”