Create the Future!  
Community-Driven Institute


Governing for What Matters
 (Community-Driven Governance)
 Part 2 - The Structure
by Hildy Gottlieb Copyright ReSolve, Inc. 2008©

If you have not read Part 1 of this article, CLICK HERE

Aim people at what is possible, and they will do what is necessary to get there. It is as true for boards as it is for the rest of us.

That sentiment is at the core of Governing for What Matters.

Governing for What Matters gives boards a simple framework by which to hold themselves accountable for the reason they joined the board in the first place - their passion for making a difference in their communities.

Then, within the context of making that difference, Governing for What Matters provides simple mechanisms by which the board can hold itself accountable for the means for accomplishing that difference.

We stress the simplicity of this framework for one reason: The more complicated a system, the less likely it is to be followed. The more difficult it is to remember what to do, and the more steps involved in doing the work, the more likely it is that work will not be done.

The few, simple steps in Governing for What Matters are therefore intended to get the job done in a way that volunteer boards of every size, shape and level of sophistication can grasp easily.

If a board wants to aim its work at making a significant difference in its community, the sector owes it to that board to make the job as easy as possible to do - even with all the legal and operational oversight that goes with the job.

And so, there are two simple steps in Governing for What Matters.

Step 1: Define What Matters

Step 2: Put What Matters Into Action

Defining What Matters

Defining what matters most to the organization is done through tools that are not unfamiliar to boards - vision, mission and values.


The discussions that surround the development and ongoing pursuit of the vision for a better community are critical to Governing for What Matters. Such discussions center around questions such as these:

What do we want our community to be like because our organization is here?

What would the community look like if we were 100% successful in our work? What would "amazing" look like in our community?

What difference do we want to make? For whom? What would their lives look like if we are successful?


Through those discussions of vision, the board’s discussions of mission - what the organization will do to bring that vision to reality - have context.

The organization is not providing theater performances simply for the sake of providing performances to those who already love theater.

Instead, the organization is also doing its work for the purpose of creating a community that embraces the theater as a way of expressing our innermost feelings.

The organization is not providing shelter for abused animals simply for the sake of saving those animals.

Instead, the organization is also doing its work for the purpose of creating a more humane community in every way - a community where individuals value all life.


From there, discussions of the organization’s values focus on the behaviors the organization will model to the community, to walk the talk that will create the change they want to see.

If a domestic violence organization wishes to create a community where all individuals feel safe, they will vow to do their own work in a way that creates a safe place for open discussion between the board, staff and volunteers.

If a poverty organization wishes to create a community where independence is encouraged within a spirit of humanity and compassion, they will vow to do their own work in a way that is not only compassionate, but focuses on creating independence, rather than system-dependence.

These discussions, in and of themselves, are powerful for boards. Thoughtfully creating The 3 Statements - a Vision Statement, a Mission Statement that reflects that vision, and a Values Statement - is a powerful reminder of what is possible, and further of what it will take to achieve that potential.

For more information about creating The 3 Statements, CLICK here!

Putting What Matters Into Action

The creation of The 3 Statements is a powerful exercise. However, creating those statements and failing to use them to guide each and every decision and action taken by the board and staff - well, that is a waste of time, a waste of the paper upon which those statements are written, and a waste of wall space for the plaque they are inscribed upon in the lobby!

Typically, The 3 Statements are created as part of a planning process, and then set aside to get to the “real work.”

When a board is Governing for What Matters, however, The 3 Statements ARE the real work. They become the organization’s version of the 10 Commandments. They are the principles that guide every decision that is made, and the barometer against which every action is measured.

Putting What Matters Into Action takes two forms.

1 ) Planning aimed at What Matters Most

2) Day-to-day actions aimed at What Matters Most

Planning will be discussed in Part 3 of this article. For the remainder of Part 2, let’s focus on what it looks like in the day-to-day when a board is Governing for What Matters, using The 3 Statements as its guide.

What Matters Most in the Day-to-Day

When a board is Governing for What Matters, the board uses The 3 Statements to guide every single discussion.

Budget questions. The way the financials are reported. How money is raised. How the staff is trained and compensated. How (and to what extent) the community is engaged.

Every issue the board discusses is framed within the context of what the board wants to accomplish for the community. And every discussion is also framed within the context of the talk the organization has vowed to walk - the values it wishes to model to the community.

Here are some examples of what that looks like in action - both what it looks like when an organization uses The 3 Statements for its decisions, and when it does not.

Dollars Determining "What Matters" - or - "What Matters" Determining Dollars?

A group that provides a variety of services to low income and homeless families had a new CEO who was an accountant in his former life. Realizing a particular program would never pay for itself, he brought that to the attention of the board. The board told him, “Our mission is to provide service to those who need our help. We will find the money to pay for this program, because that is what this organization is about.”

At the other side of the spectrum, a substance abuse organization had a highly effective 6 month residential treatment program. When state budget cuts reduced funding to cover only 3 months of treatment, the organization reduced its program to 3 months. When asked if the 3 month program was effective, both board and staff immediately said “no” - their recidivism rate had almost immediately increased. Yet there was never discussion of finding funding to supplement the reduced state funds, to return to providing effective treatment.

Which organization is Governing for What Matters? Which organization has prioritized its Vision, Mission and Values as its guiding force?

Dollars Determining Who We Serve - or - "What Matters" Determining Who We Serve?

The mission of a Nonprofit Resource Center in a major metropolitan area is to maintain a strong and thriving sector filled with strong and thriving organizations. The Center funds its training and consulting by as many creative approaches as it can find. All activities at the Center are open to everyone who wishes to attend, as they encourage learning and strength throughout all organizations.

The mission of another Nonprofit Resource Center in another major metropolitan area is also to maintain strength throughout the sector. A large portion of the Center’s funding comes from memberships. While some activities at the Center are open to everyone, many activities are available only for members, simply because the Center must show value / benefit to those members, to encourage them to maintain their paid memberships. The mission - to strengthen the work of the whole sector - has de facto become “to strengthen the work of its paying members.” Those who need that assistance the most, who may not be able to afford the membership, do not receive assistance.

Which organization is Governing for What Matters? Which organization has prioritized its Vision, Mission and Values as its guiding force?

Inclusion as Part of "What Matters"

It is not necessary to provide examples of those who define their mission (and hence the results that mission can accomplish) narrowly. We all see such work every day. Our favorite example is a Food Bank board who insisted, "Our mission is not poverty - it is hunger!"

Instead, let's consider how the vision for a more inclusive community can change an organization's day-to-day work.

In the past several years, the Human Services Federation in Lincoln, Nebraska, decided to include arts groups as full members. If art therapy is a human service, and art as gang prevention is a human service, the question that eventually became a change of policy was, “How are the arts NOT a human service?” From that blurring of silo lines, “human service” and “arts” organizations are discouraged from acting as competitors for public attention, and instead have significantly more opportunity to work together towards a shared vision of a vibrant, healthy community.

In Fresno, California, the Fresno Coalition for Arts, Science and History convenes and advocates for these seemingly disparate disciplines, because all three disciplines are about creativity and innovation, about education, about our higher selves. In walking its talk, the director of the coalition has begun to ask questions such as, “If these higher disciplines are about creativity and innovation, shouldn’t these organizations be the ones leading the way towards creating innovative change in our community?”

Financial Reporting and Budgeting for "What Matters"

Again, it is not necessary to discuss how financial reporting and budgeting is done in most organizations. Instead, these examples stand out for their focus on community results.

At a large human services coalition in a major metropolitan area, the financials are reviewed by the finance committee quarterly, and salient points are reported to the board. At their monthly meetings, however, the board reviews a different version of the financials - a report that measures the finances against their strategic goals for the year, and against their values. “How are we doing against budget re: our goals? How are revenues doing re: a particular strategic initiative? Are we leveraging our resources into the areas we have said are important?” That is what the board reviews monthly.

At a small human services organization, the board determines whether or not to approve the budget by focusing on how the budget reflects the goals in its annual plan. “Are we budgeting to accomplish what we said we wanted to accomplish?”

Fundraising for "What Matters" - or - Fundraising AGAINST "What Matters"?

A substance abuse recovery organization is the beneficiary of an annual dinner event produced by a 3rd party. At that event, alcohol is served. The group debates whether this is appropriate, and defers to its Values Statement for answers. Those values include a reliance on the principles embodied in the 12 Steps. For guidance, therefore, the group goes to the source - the Alcoholics Anonymous “Big Book.” There they find the advice that an alcoholic in recovery not be adamant that everyone stop drinking - that such behavior is likely to backfire. From that wisdom, the group not only creates a policy to reflect this sentiment; they create a written statement that can be shared at the event, to help the public understand how the organization's decision actually furthers its mission.

At the other end of the spectrum, another recovery organization produces its own annual fundraising event. On the flyers for the event, the first item listed to entice people to attend the event is this:

Beer, Wine and Local Libations!

Yes, the main annual event for a substance abuse recovery organization is promoted as a drinking event.

Which organization is Governing for What Matters? Which organization has prioritized its Vision, Mission and Values as its guiding force?

Review: Using The 3 Statements to Govern For What Matters

From these examples, we begin to see that a board that is Governing for What Matters is, first and foremost, conscious. The board is conscious of the power they have, in every decision, to change lives, to make a difference - to create the future of their community.

Boards that are Governing for What Matters do not let circumstances decide their end goals. Instead, they deliberately and consciously overcome obstacles, to achieve the community’s highest aspirations and dreams. And they do so with consciousness, in every decision they make.

CLICK here for Part 3 of this article, where we will focus on planning. By planning for What Matters Most, the organization’s leaders will be proactively working to create the future of their community, while simultaneously planning to proactively ensure their accountability for the means.



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