Best Board Books #13: Two Tools in Two Books – Part 1

By John Pearson

R. Buckminster Fuller (1895-1983), the designer, inventor, and futurist, said, “If you want to teach people a new way of thinking, don’t bother trying to teach them. Instead, give them a tool, the use of which will lead to new ways of thinking.”

So in this blog and the next blog, I’m featuring two tools from two books that will enrich thinking and planning at the senior team level and at the board level. (Neither books are “governance books” per se, but a list of best board books would be incomplete without them.)

Book #13: Nonprofit Sustainability: Making Strategic Decisions for Financial Viability, by Jeanne Bell, Jan Masaoka and Steve Zimmerman
(Order on Amazon)

The helpful tool is on page 25—and for some CEOs and board members, that’s all the reading you need to do. The “Dual Bottom Line: Mission Impact and Financial Sustainability” matrix map (four quadrants) addresses two key issues with four easy-to-remember icons:

STARS: High Mission Impact, High Sustainability
HEARTS: High Mission Impact, Low Sustainability

MONEY TREE: Low Mission Impact, High Sustainability
STOP SIGN: Low Mission Impact, Low Sustainability

Board Exercise: inspire your CEO and senior team to bring a first draft of all your products, programs, and services plotted in the appropriate quadrants—then facilitate a discussion to discern if your board agrees or not. Then move to a second draft.

Also—review how many programs are in the “Stop Sign” category—and ask about next steps.

Reminder: Jesus taught us in Luke 14:28-30, “Is there anyone here who, planning to build a new house, doesn’t first sit down and figure the cost so you’ll know if you can complete it? If you only get the foundation laid and then run out of money, you’re going to look pretty foolish. Everyone passing by will poke fun at you: ‘He started something he couldn’t finish.’” (The Message)

Also—are we adequately feeding the “Stars?” Have we invested time in rethinking how to make our “Hearts” more sustainable? Is our mission still clear to all?

For more on this powerful one-page tool, read my review of Nonprofit Sustainability, and read Steve Moore’s guest blog here on Lesson 23, “Focus on Mission Impact and Sustainability” in Lessons From the Nonprofit Boardroom: 40 Insights for Better Board Meetings.

BOARD DISCUSSION: When is the last time we held up a “Stop Sign” to a program, product or service? If it were up to you, what would we stop doing immediately—and cut our mounting losses? (Resource: share the “dismount” worksheet from my Results Bucket webpage: “Dakota tribal wisdom says that when you discover you are riding a dead horse, the best strategy is to dismount.”)

NEXT BLOG: Two Tools in Two Books – Part 2 (One-Page Strategic Plan)

MORE RESOURCES: Check out the “40 Blogs. 40 Wednesdays.” color commentaries on Lessons From the Nonprofit Boardroom, by Dan Busby and John Pearson, including Lesson 23, “Focus on Mission Impact and Sustainability” by guest blogger Steve Moore.


This article was originally posted on the “Governance of Christ-Centered Organizations” blog, hosted by ECFA.
John Pearson, a board governance consultant and author, was ECFA’s governance blogger from 2011 to 2020.
© 2021, ECFA and John Pearson. All rights reserved.

This text is provided with the understanding that ECFA is not rendering legal, accounting, or other professional advice or service. Professional advice on specific issues should be sought from an accountant, lawyer, or other professional.