Strengthening Our Sector by Strengthening Our Boards

Conversations with Katie | July 27, 2021

President & CEO Katie Smith Sloan introduces LeadingAge’s new tools for nonprofit boards of directors.

If our boards aren’t strong, our sector will get weaker.

This corollary has always been true for nonprofit organizations in the field of long-term services and supports (LTSS). But a confluence of trends and events over the past year has made this truth even more apparent.

The LTSS sector is at a crossroads. And nonprofit boards of directors play a more critical role than ever in guiding and leading their organizations through the turbulent times in which we find ourselves.

The LeadingAge Board of Directors recognized more than a year ago that COVID-19 would have a profound impact on our members. We have all been forced by circumstances beyond our control to recognize that we must do things differently as we continue to fight this pandemic, and as we emerge from its shadow in the coming months. Our ongoing challenge to provide services and supports to a rapidly growing older population, and our moral imperative to respond to national calls for racial equity, have made organizational change even more necessary—and inevitable.

Many LeadingAge members are already changing. They’re taking a new look at their business models and adjusting their strategies. Some have put projects on hold, others have forged pathways into new service lines. All are rethinking their approaches to providing services and supports to older adults across the continuum.

LeadingAge believes that boards of directors must be at the center of this rethinking process. That’s why we’ve invested considerable time and energy in developing a collection of robust tools designed to advance good governance by helping board members fulfill their core duty to reshape, re-strategize, and rebuild their organizations so they are well positioned for the future.

What is good governance?

We’ve given a great deal of thought to that question as we developed our tools. We believe that successful boards are boards that can integrate useful knowledge into decision-making processes, sustain a culture of trust within their organizations and with outside stakeholders, and ensure that their organizations remain nimble in our ever-evolving operating environment.

We recognize that no one governance model will work for all organizations. But we believe there are critical elements, guidelines, and practices that will enable boards to govern well by exercising strong leadership, accountability, and a strategic vision and direction.

Our new governance tools, which just made their debut on the LeadingAge Learning Hub, reflect these beliefs.

The first tool, called “Strategic Foresights and Strategy Development,” offers a practical guide to help boards anticipate future changes, articulate a preferred future for their organizations, and then take action to advance that preferred future. Three additional focus areas are now in development:

  • Stewarding and Nurturing will explore financial oversight, risk, and crisis management.
  • Structure and Culture will offer a guide to governance approaches, including the role of the board and CEO and the organization’s accountability structure.
  • Engaging and Including will provide governance tools for community engagement; communications; diversity, equity, and inclusion; and organizational culture.

In addition to offering step-by-step guides, presentations, and tools, each focus area will offer your board an overview of trends and emerging issues that directly affect our field, and in-depth case studies of provider organizations that have made great strides in strengthening their organizations by strengthening their boards. We’ll also be developing a set of metrics that a board might use to measure its progress in each of these areas.

All the governance tools are self-guided, so they are easy to use. But if you’d prefer to access governance experts directly, you can call on our group of vetted consultants to guide your strategic planning or consult on a range of board-related matters.

I hope you’ll take a moment to explore our new governance tools and that you’ll check back often for updates and additions.

And remember: As leaders of nonprofit LTSS organizations, we are the only ones who can strengthen our boards. It’s our responsibility. And it’s a responsibility we cannot ignore without putting our organizations and the LTSS sector at risk.

Indeed, good governance is the only way to ensure that our sector will be strong and ready for whatever the future holds.