I firstly met Penelope, who lives in Arizona, a few years ago. After a few months of mutual “discovery”, we decide to become professional partners – better: our companies, ENGAGEDin and The Cagney Company, are partners – on global projects.
I asked Penelope to share some thoughts on “governance and fundraising” during one of the conversations that we regularly have on these issues.
Gaining new perspectives is a powerful way to learn and approach things differently.
Enjoy the reading!
Penelope, you authored a book – “Global Best practice for CSO, NGO and Other Nonprofit Boards: Lessons from around the world” – that is a compared reflection on the relationship between governance and fundraising. I read it once it was released and I found it interesting and extremely helpful in providing a global overview on this issue.
Which are the key points that mainly impressed you in comparing the American approach with the others?
No one country or culture “owns” good governance. Each fashions a system that makes sense in terms of their own cultural, political and economic situation. I think American non-profit boards can learn from their counterparts in other places, especially as America is becoming ever more diverse in its population. We need to understand and adjust to the multiple perspectives of various constituencies in order to provide effective governance.
Our respective firms partner in international consultancy projects and we already have the opportunity to co-present sessions, share best practices and practical experiences.
Generally speaking, something that seems remarkable in the Board of Directors in US is their active engagement, mainly aimed to instigate the “sense of emulation” among peers.
Which are, on the contrary, the critical traits that you face in your consultancies with US nonprofits?
Increasingly the “ultra rich” are driving the philanthropic agenda and this is a worrying trend. Because American nonprofits are very much dependent on funding from private sources, in some instances they have accepted funds from questionable sources. A recent case is the MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) Media Lab having accepted funds from Jeffrey Epstein, a billionaire businessman who preyed on young women. Fortunately, this problem has recently attracted public attention and in some instances corrective action is being taken.
This year protest by artists led to the resignation of a board member at the Whitney Museum of American Art, Warren Kanders. Kander’s company, Safariland, produced a tear gas that been fired at migrants on the US-Mexico border. Other major museums—including Britain’s Tate Gallery, and the American Guggenheim and Metropolitan Museum of Art, have stated that they will no longer accept money from the Sackler family, who have been linked to the opioid crisis.
Besides your consultancies, you are often invited as a speaker and trainer in Asian countries. That is an area that is personally unknown to me.
Is there something – with regards to the relationship between governance and fundraising – that impressed you, or that you brought in your daily work, from your Asian experiences?
There are many important cultural differences across Asia, so it is difficult to generalize about nonprofits in such a vast region. One of the things that impresses me about the Japanese is that the practice of servant leadership is deeply imbedded in their culture. I believe servant leadership is the best global model for governance. First described by Robert K. Greenleaf as a viable model for leaders of modern organizations, servant leaders share power and put the needs of people and communities first, helping people develop and perform as highly as possible. A great example from India is Mahatma Ghandhi. Africa’s Nelson Mendala gave us another shining example of servant leadership.
Last but not least, a question on a highly sensitive issue: paid Boards of Directors as an incentive to stimulate their performance as Board members.
It is a topic explored in your book, in the section dedicated to European governance authored by Valerio Melandri, and it also is one of those issues I frequently think at without gaining an unambiguous solution.
What is your opinion about that?
Do you think that economic incentives could be considered as levers to improve the engagement by the Boards towards the big issue of sustainability?
I think that it depends on the type of organization. Some nonprofits are closer to for-profits in their operations, like large health care operations. Having individuals on the board with business expertise may necessitate emulating the for-profit governance model in this respect. The situation is best dealt with on a case-by-case basis.