Governing for Nonprofit Excellence
One Year Later: Engaging your board and aligning your mission.
Viewing the world through a global lens is critical to Francine Parham, chairperson of Aljira, a Center for
Contemporary Art in Newark, New Jersey. That’s why she was excited about the opportunity to examine the
latest theories and models at Harvard Business School (HBS) with other nonprofit leaders from around the
world. A year after completing the Governing for Nonprofit Excellence (GNE) program, Parham continues to
apply the knowledge she acquired to her interactions with the board of trustees.
Q. What were your objectives in attending the program?
My organization was at a critical juncture in its lifecycle, so I wanted to learn how to lead its turnaround while keeping our
trustees, staff, stakeholders, and partners engaged and aligned. Through dialog with faculty experts and other nonprofit leaders,
I gained the skills to move forward strategically without eroding the original mission and purpose. It was critical that this happen
both internally and externally. A year later, the program is still paying off—and I’m still going strong.
Q. Which aspects of the program did you find most useful?
Having some of the nonprofit organizations that were the subjects of the case studies share their perspectives and provide
updates was most helpful. This brought the information to life and gave it relevance, as some of the studies were complex with
multiple layers. Most important, we were given clear examples of how to elevate conversation about strategy, implementation, and
action as leaders of our boards and organizations. Since then, I have been able to drive trustee accountability, performance, and
engagement at Aljira, a Center for Contemporary Arts, while bringing on and defining a new trustee profile.
Q. What impact has the program had on you as a leader?
This past year, I created an all-day, off-site retreat that focuses on accountability, contracting, and outcomes. This meeting is part
of an overall change strategy that I developed and am implementing in my for-profit experience as well. The Dodge Foundation
has asked me to be a guest blogger and discuss what I have achieved as Aljira’s chair, and to participate as a member in its
professionally facilitated learning circle, “In Good Company,” a group of nonprofit presidents and chairs who are involved in the
revitalization of the Newark community. I am most proud of this accomplishment, as it was my proposal to the Dodge Foundation.
Q. How would you summarize the value of the program?
My one-week experience at Harvard Business School catapulted me into some great leadership opportunities and provided
an instant resource network of Harvard professionals and nonprofit leaders across the globe. I learned from faculty who have
achieved success in the government, nonprofit, and for-profit sectors and from other leaders in a variety of nonprofit areas with
different points of view. Recently, I conducted two workshops at Rutgers Business School, Institute for Ethical Leadership, that
focused on the importance of developing a network of nonprofit leaders, something I know about firsthand through my experience
at Harvard Business School.
For complete information, program updates, and an online application, visit: www.exed.hbs.edu/programs/gne/
Q&A with Francine Parham