Excerpted from The Four Principles of Purpose-Driven Board Leadership:

In the face of increasingly pressing systemic inequities, nonprofit boards must change the traditional ways they have worked and instead prioritize an organization’s purpose, show respect for the ecosystem in which they operate, commit to equity, and recognize that power must be authorized by the people they’re aiming to help.

Purpose-Driven Leadership

We need to have a more explicit conversation about what a board’s most essential work is and how board composition must shift to be able to support that critical work. And we need a new orientation to the board’s leadership role, something that BoardSource describes as “Purpose-Driven Board Leadership,” a mindset characterized by four fundamental principles, mutually reinforcing and interdependent, that define the way that the board sees itself and its work:

  • Purpose before organization: prioritizing the organization’s purpose, versus the organization itself.
  • Respect for ecosystem: acknowledging that the organization’s actions can positively or negatively impact its surrounding ecosystem, and a commitment to being a respectful and responsible ecosystem player.
  • Equity mindset: committing to advancing equitable outcomes, and interrogating and avoiding the ways in which the organization’s strategies and work may reinforce systemic inequities.
  • Authorized voice and power: recognizing that organizational power and voice must be authorized by those impacted by the organization’s work.

Purpose Before Organization

Traditionally, boards are understood to be “mission-driven,” which means the board is responsible for ensuring that the organization does good work that advances its cause. But while being mission-driven is centered on the organization’s role in doing good, we believe boards need to re-center on purpose: the fundamental reason that the organization exists.

At BoardSource, we see vision, mission, and values as more narrowly-defined elements of purpose:

  • Vision: the desired future state
  • Mission: an organization’s role in working toward its vision
  • Values: the principles and beliefs that guide how an organization enacts its mission
  • Purpose: an organization’s reason for being in the world, which is a melding of the concepts of mission and values in pursuit of vision

Read more in the full article at the Stanford Social Innovation Review: https://ssir.org/articles/entry/the_four_principles_of_purpose_driven_board_leadership