Ask the Gold Standard Question

A “pruning moment” can improve your board meetings.


by Dan Busby and John Pearson


Questions to Ask about Your Meetings

What ways are we spending time in these meetings that are
good and helpful but not the best use of our time together? . . .
What do we do here that is sick and not getting well?[1]

Henry Cloud


Several years ago, I (we co-authors are generally staying anonymous to keep us out of trouble!) conducted one-on-one phone interviews with nine board members who served together on a ministry board. I asked each of them my favorite engagement question:

You’re driving away from a typical board meeting,
 and you say, “That was a great board meeting today!”
Tell me, what happened at the board meeting
to provoke that positive response?

I call this my gold standard question because the responses are always indicative of a board member’s satisfaction level with his or her board experience.

Over the years, when I ask this question, board members with unsatisfactory experiences often respond:

  • “No one asked me for advice, wisdom, counsel, or ideas.”
  • “The staff read aloud the reports that we already had read in advance.”
  • “Boring. Routine. Pure agony. I welcomed a ‘reason’ to miss a board meeting.”
  • “Clearly, I’m not needed at the board table. The CEO did all the talking.”
  • “There was no sense of the holy except the perfunctory bookend prayers.”
  • “I came to explore bold, daring steps of faith, but everything presented to us seemed small minded.”
  • Conversely, here’s what highly committed, deeply engaged, thrilled-to-be-serving board members tell me:
  • “Everyone’s prepared. Everyone participates. Everyone prays. It’s the best board I have ever served on.”
  • “It happens all the time! We’ve omitted the petty stuff and focused on the important agenda items only. And we know where we are financially.”

During one phone call, a board member outlined four primary ingredients of memorable board meetings. (I was the consultant, yet he was teaching the course!)

  1. “There is deep joy in every meeting.”
  2. “We listen to what the Spirit is saying to our board.”
  3. “Energetic discussions abound. We’re not looking for agreement; we’re looking for insight—spiritual insight.”
  4. “There is solidarity. We foster a board culture that eliminates the unhealthy giving up of personal beliefs for the sake of unity. Instead, we wait for the Spirit of God to speak.”

Imagine! What if your board had frequent moments characterized by deep joy, spiritual insight, and waiting for God to speak?

Imagine! What if when your board members are driving or flying home, their post-meeting reflections were deeply satisfying?

How do you move from your same-old-same-old board meeting routine to a new level of board excellence? Perhaps it’s time for your board to announce what Dr. Henry Cloud calls a “necessary ending.”

Cloud, a leadership coach to CEOs and business executives as well as a clinical psychologist, introduced a new term into the leadership lexicon: “the pruning moment.”[2]

He defined the pruning moment as “that clarity of enlighten­ment when we become responsible for making the decision to own the vision or not. If we own it, we have to prune. If we don’t, we have decided to own the other vision, the one we called average. It is a moment of truth that we encounter almost every day in many, many decisions.”[3]

Has your board sunk into an average vision with mediocre meetings? Is it time for a pruning moment?



Some boards slowly, almost imperceptibly, descend
into the same-old-same-old board meeting routine
and settle for average. Others focus on intentional improvement
and reach a new level of board excellence—
and they ooze God-honoring joy to others!

  Board Action Steps:

  1. Ask: “Before we start this meeting, we’d like every board member to think back and tell us about a great board meeting you attended and why it was so memorable.”[4]
  2. Evaluate: Distribute a short evaluation survey at the end of each meeting that is reviewed by the executive committee or the governance committee.
  3. Read: Ask your “Leaders Are Readers Champion” to review the ten short chapters in the “Board and Committee Meetings” section of The Nonprofit Board Answer Book.[5]



Lord, we don’t want better board meetings just to satisfy our personal needs
or to meet an arbitrary human standard.
We desire highly effective board meetings to impact eternity. Amen.



[1] Henry Cloud, Necessary Endings: The Employees, Businesses, and Relationships That All of Us Have to Give Up in Order to Move Forward (New York: Harper Business, 2010), 30–31.

[2] Ibid., 24.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Adapted from “The Gold Standard Question for Board Members.” ECFA Governance of Christ-centered Organizations (blog), September 10, 2015, 2015/09/the-gold-standard-question-for-board.html.

[5] BoardSource, The Nonprofit Board Answer Book: A Practical Guide for Board Members and Chief Executives, 3d ed. (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2012), 141–74.


From Lessons From the Nonprofit Boardroom: 40 Insights for Better Board Meetings, 2018,

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.