With the publication last week of BoardSource’s updated Ten Basic Responsibilities of Board Members, I’ve been thinking a lot about Crutchfield and Grant’s seminal Forces for Good book. The Ten Basic Responsibilities of Board Members list of the core, fundamental, legal responsibilities of a Board member has been gospel for all of us for many years. Most of us have relied on this list to orient our board members and to explain board members’ responsibilities for new members.
When BoardSource changed this list last week, BoardSource didn’t make the number of items on the list longer, but what it did do is determine that ADVOCACY is a core responsibility of Board Members. The responsibility to advocate for the mission is added to the first core responsibility (to determine an organization’s mission and purpose) and discussions of advocacy are added to several other responsibilities such as the responsibility to enhance an organization’s public standing.
I’ve just finished reading Wayne Elsey’s new book The Rise and Fall of Charities in the 21st Century: How the Nonprofit World Is Changing and What You Can Do To Be Ready (2015).
The argument Elsey makes—that nonprofit organizations (in general) have failed, are failing, or are being forced by competition from new philanthropic models like social enterprise to innovate or close is not a new argument, nor is it an argument that Elsey makes alone. See, for example, my discussion here of Paul Klein’s call in the Stanford Social Innovation Review earlier this year for an end of corporate social responsibility because, he asserts, corporations can do philanthropy better than nonprofits . I’d like to respond to a couple of common criticisms running through the arguments of Elsey, Klein, and others.
The piece is really disappointing, but hardly surprising from a man who heralds the end of corporate social responsibility, arguing “traditional corporate philanthropy is considered an inappropriate use of capital, a distraction of time and resources from business activities” (Forbes, July 9, 2014). His July piece in Forbes counsels businesses on how to exit the “business” of corporate social responsibility.
How sad to me that a business leader would have so little appreciation for our common human and environmental interconnectedness, so little appreciation for the stakes all corporations have in the planet and its populations.
But mostly, in suggesting that nonprofits don’t work, I wanted to laugh out loud and ask “How on earth do we know? How do we know what nonprofits are capable of?” Have we ever really tried them? I mean, REALLY tried them?