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SEI's Growing Focus on Nonprofit Board Leadership

By: Rob Zeaske 25 Aug 2021
Participants during a Social Enterprise Executive Education program.

As the Social Enterprise Initiative looks to its next twenty-five years of service to HBS and our community of students, alumni, and global practitioners, we are increasingly focused on good governance as a gateway to greater impact. As we’ve learned again over the past eighteen months of turbulence, the nonprofit board’s role is critical to crisis management and resilience efforts, but is also central in charting long-term organizational and systemic changes for nonprofits and the communities they serve. With support and interest from nonprofit leaders and board members alike, we are excited to expand our programs on nonprofit board governance, including some of the following upcoming and recent offerings.

This summer, SEI launched HBS OnBoard – a new, ongoing series designed to inspire and support HBS alumni serving on nonprofit boards. OnBoard will develop leadership skills critical for modern governance, with a focus on the evolving role of nonprofit boards from one of fiduciary and organizational performance oversight to a role that encompasses the broader perspective of systems impact. OnBoard will include virtual synchronous sessions with HBS faculty, social impact practitioners, and board leaders to discuss cross-sector topics including systems thinking, driving change, mergers and collaborations, succession planning, and the nonprofit racial leadership gap. Each session is interactive with opportunities to collaborate with HBS alumni peers. OnBoard will also include designated sessions for new or prospective nonprofit board leaders, as well as for board chairs.

Hundreds of alumni joined us for the launch of OnBoard in June. SEI Faculty Co-Chair Kash Rangan hosted a conversation with Anne Wallestad, CEO of BoardSource, on the shift to purpose-driven leadership that looks beyond organizational performance to greater social impact goals. Alumni met in interactive small groups to discuss their experience as board members and reconvened to share learnings with the full group. View the recording of the event here.

We hope alumni will join us for our next event on September 29th where HBS alumna Monisha Kapila will lead us in a conversation on Advancing Racial Equity as a Board Member, highlighting practices that can sustain race equity experiences and outcomes within the social sectors. Sign up here to receive regular updates about upcoming OnBoard programming. This event series is open to HBS alumni only.

SEI’s flagship governance program - Governing for Nonprofit Excellence – Virtual (GNEV) – is our most rigorous experience for alumni and non-alumni nonprofit board leaders. It is offered through HBS Executive Education and enables board leaders to drive the strategic and organizational transformation needed for their organizations to thrive. GNEV brings the quintessential HBS classroom experience to life in service of board excellence with a cohort of peers from around the globe. The program will next take place live and online over six half days, on Oct. 21 and Oct. 25-29, 2021. Please visit the program website for more details and to apply.

SEI is also more deeply supporting alumni-led nonprofit board work, including the Boston, Northern California and New York HBS alumni clubs who hosted the Nonprofit Board Summit 2021 this summer. The summit, which attracted more than 1,000 attendees, focused on four major themes—Rethinking Governance, Adapting to a Changing Landscape, Equity and Inclusion in Action, and Partnering for Systemic Change. The conference was full of excellent content, including the conversation between Professor Shawn Cole and Ford Foundation President Darren Walker on leading systemic change.

We are delighted to expand our focus, thinking, and learning in nonprofit governance and are eager to hear from you how we might further evolve our programs to drive greater impact in the issues and communities that you care so deeply about. Please consider joining one of the programs above or connect with me directly about opportunities to refine our work at rzeaske@hbs.edu.

Further reading from our faculty:

F. Warren McFarlan, Effective Fundraising: The Trustee’s Role and Beyond. Wiley Publishing, 2021.

Dass, Shamal, Kristy Muir, and V. Kasturi Rangan. "Nonprofit Boards: It Is time to Lift Your Gaze and See the System." (pdf) Harvard Business School Working Paper, No. 21-058, November 2020.