Six Wrenching Questions Every Board Must Answer


For those of you who are new to our monthly Leap of Reason updates, welcome to the community. For those of you who have been part of this journey for a while, thank you for all that you’re doing to spread the word. Thanks to the power of your networks, 23,000 copies of the book are now in circulation.

This month, I want to highlight a new resource that I hope will be of use to many boards. It’s a shortlist of six wrenching questions we all need to address proactively in this era of scarcity, which you can find in my column “Saving the Ship by Rocking the Boat,” in this month’s VPPNews.

As you will see if you click through, you will need to steel yourself for asking and answering these questions. The questions are, in the words of a friend, a “punch in the solar plexus.” But I hope they can help us all get past nice, polite discussions and do what it takes to ensure our organizations’ continued ability to make a material difference in the lives of those we serve.

And now I want to update you on some of the activities surrounding the book:

  • We’ve recently returned from site visits to three stellar organizations that prove outcomes-focused management is possible and are exemplars for the field: Youth Villages (based in Memphis, TN), Roca (based in Chelsea, MA), and Congreso(based in Philadelphia, PA). None of the great leaders I met with had a fixation on metrics and measurement per se, but each saw their decision to collect and use good information as core to saving more lives. Each had compelling stories about coming to the realization that what they were doing wasn’t working well enough and they had to do better. That realization was the impetus for making the leap of reason. If you have suggestions for nonprofits or government agencies that have made the leap of reason and should be on our roster of site visits, please let us know at
  • Friendship Public Charter School COO Patricia Brantley wrote to update us on two important developments that flow from the work she described in her Leap of Reason essay: “We are currently leading two consortia focused on academic performance-management systems. The first consortium of six charter organizations is installing Friendship’s PowerSchool dashboards (an enhanced version of the dashboards I wrote about in Leap of Reason). The second consortium is a partnership with KIPP DC and IDEA Public Charter School to develop an enhanced data warehouse-based performance-management system.” We’ll be visiting with Pat and her team this week and will report on what we learn.
  • On November 10, I brought the Leap of Reason message to the “Accelerating Social Entrepreneurship in the Age of Austerity” conference at George Mason University. In a dialogue with GMU President Alan Merten, I made the case that accelerating social entrepreneurship will require all of us to support nonprofit executives to be more disciplined, focused, and information-based in how they manage their organizations. The conversation dovetailed nicely with the conference’s opening session, a conversation between Sen. Mark Warner, one of VPP’s three co-founders, and Share Our Strength CEO Bill Shore, a VPP board member. After pointing out that 85 percent of the federal budget cuts are coming from the 14 percent of the budget that is made up of non-security discretionary spending, Sen. Warner urged nonprofit leaders to recognize that the “age of austerity” is real and will require leaders to innovate. Both speakers emphasized the importance of good information for innovation and achieving meaningful impact.
  • The St. Luke’s Foundation, of Cleveland, wrote to tell us how the organization is putting the book to use: “The release of Leap of Reason could not have come at a better time for Saint Luke’s Foundation,” says President and CEO Denise Zeman. “We have used your book to inform a complete re-design of our approach to grantmaking and outcomes/learning.”
  • We received notes saying that leaders were using the book to inform change efforts in the Philippines, France, China, and the UK.
  • The Nature Conservancy of Hawaii’s leadership decided to share copies of the book with the 22 members of its stellar board during the organization’s recent board retreat.

Because we are hearing from many leaders who say they have used the book to animate board meetings, we have decided to develop a special Leap of Reasonboard package that can be used for retreats, planning sessions, mission-effectiveness and governance reviews, and other convenings. In addition to copies of the book, the packages will contain a list of excellent reports on board effectiveness, my last two VPPNews columns (both of which focus on boards), and suggestions for using the materials.

No later than December 5, we will have these packages ready to send out, at no charge. Just write to us at with your contact information, timing, how many packages you need, and how you plan to use them. And then, when you complete your meeting, share with us how it went and anything else that can contribute to our learning about how we can help boards make the leap of reason for those they serve.

– Mario Morino