Ask the juicy questions.

Have you ever found yourself thinking: I wish my board would get out of the weeds! Or: Why are board members so quiet during meetings? Or even: I really wish the board would help me think about the big picture for our organization.

You, my friend, might find the three modes of governance helpful.

The concept of the three modes is simple – effective boards perform three functions:

  1. Fiduciary: oversight of the financial, legal, programmatic realms. For example, reviewing outcomes measurements or monthly financials to make sure the organization is on track to meet goals.

  2. Strategic: planning for the future. For example, creating a fundraising or marketing plan.

  3. Generative: creative framing of the issues the organization and/or board needs to tackle. See below for examples.

In our opinion, the generative mode is where the good stuff happens. It’s where board members get engaged in the meaningful work, where they can share their view of the big picture, and where they can dream for the organization.

Generative thinking is driven by what we often describe as ‘juicy questions’. These questions help the board get out of the programmatic, financial, and management details of the organization and have a different, more expansive conversation.

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Some of our favorite generative questions for the board:

  • In five years, what do you want this organization to be known for?

  • If you were standing in the year 2030, telling the story of our organization’s wild success, what is that story?

  • If we were suddenly given $5 million, what do you think we should do with it?

  • When thinking about our work and our organization, what keeps you up at night?

  • What are the trends or driving forces with the greatest potential to impact our work (positively or negatively)? Why did you say yes to joining the board?

These questions help board members build their generative muscles, get to know each other better, and generate good ideas that help frame the organization’s strategic planning, marketing, or other work.

You may be wondering how your board would ever have time for this. Many organizations pack their board meeting with staff, committee, and financial reports and don’t carve out time for generative discussions. One proven way to find the space for generative thinking is to use a consent agenda. We hope these tips might help.

— Heather