Best Board Books #10: Good Governance for Nonprofits

By John Pearson

Peter Drucker preached “tool competence.” He wrote, “Although I don't know a single for-profit business that is as well managed as a few of the nonprofits, the great majority of the nonprofits can be graded a ‘C’ at best. Not for lack of effort; most of them work very hard. But for lack of focus, and for lack of tool competence.<

Book #10:
Good Governance for Nonprofits: Developing Principles and Policies for an Effective Board, by Fredric L. Laughlin and Robert C. Andringa (Order from Amazon)

More than any other tool or template, I have recommended the Board Policies Manual (BPM) template to hundreds of nonprofit organizations and churches. Fred Laughlin and Bob Andringa teamed up to produce this brilliant tool, the BPM. The who, what, where, when, why, and how—are all explained in their concise, but thorough, color commentary, Good Governance for Nonprofits.

The book describes the efficacy of compiling the twists and turns of board policies (some that conflict with others) into one thoughtful 15- to 20-page document that is designed to be revised at any board meeting throughout the year.

As Dan Busby and I note in Lessons From the Nonprofit Boardroom: “While many organizations have unwritten policies covering a wide range of topics, they’re often filed away incoherently in the archives and no one can find them when needed. ‘Here’s a fun job for a new board member,’ they say. ‘Please dig through 20 years of board minutes. Bring a flashlight and emergency provisions!’”

There’s a huge upside to a BPM, as Bob Andringa writes in “Do Unwritten Board Policies Really Exist?” (read the blog here). “For every hour spent on creating and maintaining a Board Policies Manual, at least three hours of board and committee meetings will be saved before too long. It’s a ‘living document,’ always reflecting the latest wisdom of the board.”

No question—this book (which gives access to the online template) is a must-have tool on your governance bookshelf.

BOARD DISCUSSION: According to Policy Governance Guru John Carver, “Governing by policy means governing out of policy in the sense that no board activity takes place without reference to policies. Most resolutions in board meetings will be motions to amend the policy structure in some way. Consequently, policy development is not an occasional board chore but its chief occupation.” Would your board agree?

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 4, “Do Unwritten Board Policies Really Exist?”


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.