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Governance Topics

Five Years Ahead

1 year, 3 years, 5 years.

As nonprofit leaders, we’re responsible for steering our organizations ahead not only in this budget year but into waters we can hardly chart.

Especially as board members, that’s our job. To ask the bigger questions that the ED, focused on the bottom line (delivering maximally impactful service with the achievable dollars at hand), doesn't have the everyday capacity to lift up their heads to contemplate.

How can we be different – way into the future? And what can we do about it now?

Take a typical finance committee agenda, for example. Focused on income/expenses for this fiscal year, and perhaps the balance sheet and investment return, a typical time horizon is anywhere from 3-12 months.  Of course that’s necessary – but perhaps it’s not sufficient.

Perhaps the finance committee should also be focusing, as a matter of course, on the 5-year horizon and what could be done to move the needle. Or at least a 3-year look-ahead.

Or a program committee, that much-maligned board function. Beyond looking at impact and outputs, perhaps this committee should lead the board in looking at long-term causality and trends?

And of course, the development committee. Focusing not just on this year’s honorees, but on who you want access to 3-5 years down the road and what steps have to be put into play now so you have a fighting chance of getting there.

Long-range planning is often where these conversations occur – but then they rest there. To be taken out once a year (if that) and checked off as done.

Yet this, more than anything, is the board’s role – to help management realize who the organization OUGHT to be, not simply what it is.

And to build in, day-by-day, quarter-by-quarter, the questions that help it get there.