A Radical New Way to Run Non-Profit Boards Emerges from Post-Katrina New Orleans
In 2005, Marci Cornell-Feist had an epiphany about boards. It was during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. She had been traveling back and forth between New Orleans and her home outside Boston, as the national expert on charter school governance, helping the wounded city to reimagine its school system.
In her years as a board consultant, Marci had observed many recurring patterns. While talented people often served as trustees, the practical reality was that most nonprofit boards were dysfunctional, to varying degrees. She found common confusion about what their work should be, what committees should exist, what types of talent the board members should have, and what exactly they should be focused on.
“We rely on volunteer boards to help address our most pressing issues: homelessness, our blood supply, fixing our nation’s broken public school system,” says Marci, who had previously worked for the United Nations serving displaced refugees in Laos, running a conservation organization in the Pacific Northwest, and serving in the Peace Corps in Thailand. “Boards are critical to the efficacy and survival of a nonprofit. While boards are often comprised of well-intentioned, motivated, highly competent professionals, they often struggle to harness this talent and actually benefit their organization.”
Marci’s first twelve years working with charter schools had primarily been one-on-one with individual school boards. But post Katrina New Orleans had an entire city’s school system depending on a small group of volunteers to get it right. Each school needed to become effective not only as an education center, but as a community focal point, serving thousands of displaced children. And the problem, of course, extended beyond New Orleans—and beyond charter schools to all organizations that were trying to create meaningful change in the world.
Marci realized that she needed to find a way to scale her efforts. She couldn’t just help a hundred boards a year. She needed to be able to help a thousand, or tens of thousands. The answer wasn’t an individual consultant, hopping from board to board, one at a time, leading costly trainings or board retreats and hoping that there would be someone who would implement the suggestions.
Boards really needed a full time, easy-to-use system of support that would help facilitate their work, and simply make it easier for them to succeed. And it had to provide the trustees with the actual data that revealed their viability—both financially and mission-impact—as well as how the board itself was performing.
The answer for how to develop and run an effective board—or how to repair a failing/ineffective board—had to be rooted in technology.
“What boards really need is the equivalent of a fitness app—tracking your activities, your progress towards your goals, and keeping you on track. But instead of a personal app what is needed is an app that can push the performance of organizations fueled by millions of dollars of tax-payer money and responsible for the future of hundreds or even thousands of children’s lives.”
Marci founded BoardOnTrack to be just that. She had previously founded The Achievement Network (ANet), which has had great success in helping public schools get real-time data to improve classroom instruction. Now, it was time to do something similar to transform nonprofit governance.
BoardOnTrack provides software-as-a-service that facilitates exceptional board functioning, and thus, organizational viability and effectiveness. It was developed based on Marci’s experience working with over five hundred charter schools nationwide, implementing lessons learned from similar institutions who have overcome similar obstacles.
“A charter school is a multimillion dollar enterprise, funded by taxpayer money, yet it’s run by volunteers,” says Marci. “BoardOnTrack gives the board effective systems to help schools remain viable, vibrant, and true to their mission of providing kids with the best education possible.”
This year marks the tenth anniversary of Katrina, and BoardOnTrack is gearing up for its version 2.0, which now expands beyond charter schools to all nonprofit organizations. Currently, 3,000 board members, serving over 260,000 students in 22 states are benefitting from the BoardOnTrack approach. In 2015, it raised enough venture capital to begin some significant new product features and a dramatic expansion of its reach.
This June, Marci is back in New Orleans at the National Charter School Conference, visiting old friends and colleagues, and touching base with the city that is so dear to her heart, and that was such an inspiration for BoardOnTrack.
“We trust nonprofits to do our most important work,” she says. “An effective board is essential for an effective organization. BoardOnTrack will help harness the talent of your trustees to fulfill your vision about how to make the world better.”
To learn more about BoardOnTrack, contact:
844-BOT-TEAM (844-268-8326) X 509
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