I think Cleveland Owns should adopt a distributed-leadership governance structure. Let’s explore 🙂
To truly fulfill Cleveland Owns’ mission to build wealth and power through collective ownership, I think our year-old organization must transition away from today’s leadership structure, where lots of resources and power are concentrated in one person (me) and in a small group of leaders on the Board, to a leadership structure that’s much broader, that involves many more people with more skills and experiences.
Strengthen Cleveland Owns
- Have a clear base of support for Cleveland Owns that will sustain its mission beyond the tenure of any one person
- Build a more resilient organization that’s not dependent on one person or just a small group of people
- Address the skepticism I have and others may have about the intentions of Cleveland Owns and about the intentions I have (e.g., is he doing this because of a white savior complex)
- Bring more resources to the table to support the org (e.g., connections, ideas, money)
- Make more connections between people who care about coops in the city
Unlock new ways to reach our mission
- Model the cooperative governance we encourage the groups we incubate to adopt
- Raise up leadership from people who are not white men
- Resist the white savior complex central to many nonprofits in Cleveland
- Learn new skills about how to run democratic organizations
- Demonstrate there’s an alternative way to run an org
|Create board seats for representatives from willing coops Cleveland Owns has incubated||Board agrees to take on members from cooperative we’ve incubated|
|Establish a clear standard for how developed a coop must be to qualify for a board seat|
|Members of cooperatives are even interested in joining the board of Cleveland Owns|
|Coops will need to have fair process to select a representative for the Cleveland Owns board|
|Coop members on the CO board will need to be actively engaged, and communicate back to their coop what’s going on|
|Create a non-voting advisory board that’s open to the community||Enough people (of diverse backgrounds) want to join CO advisory board|
|We effectively communicate the opportunity|
|Create structure and enough stakes in the game for people to want to stay involved (aka don’t waste people’s time)|
|Have a clear standard for what information is fair to share with advisory board and what is not|
|Listen to the group of creating meaningful opportunities for them to get involved|
|Design programming that meet people where they’re at, at various levels of knowledge about coops|
|Cocreate programming that is engaging, meaningful, and create reciprocal exchange of info and ideas|
|Create a non-voting advisory board made up of people who are members in the coops Cleveland Owns has incubated||Same as above, just more refined, plus since people on the advisory board will all have a knowledge of coops|
|Keep our current board structure and operating structure||For this option to produce some of the goals above, we’ll need to develop a strategy that builds a much broader base of leadership and support|
|Close the organization||Consent from the board|
|Commit to hiring coop members as Cleveland Owns staff (when applicable)||Approval from board|
|Qualified, interested candidates|
|Replace our ED with a group of people working part-time||We’d need to have enough money to pay a full salary, split between a few people|
|Find, hire qualified candidates|
|Cut work in a way that creates clear delineations between new part-time staff|
I think there are many more way to do this I don’t know. At our upcoming board meeting, I’m going to ask the board to brainstorm ways we can expand this list, so we can consider more options.
It’s also a chance for the board to reflect on this idea and to see if they’re on fire for it as I am.
Of these options my favorite is to create board seats for members of the coops. I like that it’s concrete governance power that turns Cleveland Owns into more of a membership organization, rather than a board-led, non-membership org. It builds connections between the incubator and the incubatee, and between coops, who may otherwise not have structured opportunities to get connected.
Thanks everyone for the comments. These are especially helpful because this is a live decision. In fact, we’re going to discuss this at our Board meeting Sunday. I’m bringing some of what I wrote in this post to the group directly.
Here’s a good lesson on the need to be precise in describing what we’re talking about. I imagined this is about distributed governance, rather than distributed management. The question of management is tricky, since I’m the only paid staff. I think we can wait on tackling that.
Our board members are unpaid. The time it takes to be a board member is substantial barrier. We don’t have a plan to pay board members – I think we’d need to change our bylaws to do so. We could. And we could also find lots of other perks for folks involved that could eliminate barriers and allow more people to seriously consider joining the board.
We’ve enshrined a commitment to a diverse board in our bylaws. I’m not sure what accountability mechanisms we have if we miss that target. It’s also a fuzzy target – we’ve never defined quotas, for example.
The effort to address skepticism goal is an important one. It’s not the only benefit this decision could bring to the org. But I certainly think being able to say something like “our board is made up of membership orgs we’ve helped found’ conveys a real sense of democratic control, and diminishes doubt this is a vanity project. I’m thinking of places like Coop Power and Cooperative Energy Futures, two member-driven orgs with management that, from afar at least, seems accountable to their membership.
Interestingly I’m also grappling with worker-directed nonprofits, a model put forward by the Sustainable Economies Law Center (SELC), designed to bring the principles of democratic management from the worker-coop world into the nonprofits space. That’s another spin on what democractic leadership looks like that winds up in a different direction: A board with much less power, and very decentralized leadership in the workplace. I can imagine us heading in that direction when/if we have staff of 2+.
Overall, this exercise has been quite helpful. It offered just enough structure for me to think about this more than I would have otherwise. Writing helped turn that thinking into something I will share with my board.
On our call Carrie raised doubts about this method. suggesting that it strips away emotion. That hasn’t been my experience. I much better having gone through this because I’ve turned over this issue enough. I haven’t made a decision. That will still involve more convos with the board and trusted friends and reflection on my own feeling about this. But it was a good start.