Called to Serve: Board Member Self-Measurements

By John Pearson

Note: This is No. 16 in a series of blogs featuring wisdom from the 91-page gem by Max De Pree, Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board.

Max De Pree: “How will I know if I am doing a good job?”

I gotta say…“What Does a Trustee Promise?” (pages 53-60) is a powerful summary of a board member’s role and responsibilities. I could milk this chapter for at least five blogs, but I won’t.

Chew on these morsels:
• “The opportunity to be a member of a non-profit board is a special gift to us as persons seeking to serve and grow.”
• “Like other forms of leadership, it’s not a position or an honor, but rather a demanding responsibility, a meddling in other people’s lives, and hard work that requires continuous learning.”

So…how should board members discern if they are doing a good job—if they are effective? Max De Pree says “a trustee should work to establish pertinent and compassionate ways to measure what matters.” It might look like this:

#1. Courtesy. Do I prepare for meetings, arrive early for meetings, and pocket my iPhone during meetings?

#2. Commitment. Do I affirm the mission and advocate for it—and do I know, affirm and practice our organization’s core values? (Can I recite them right now?)

#3. Context. De Pree asks, “Who am I in this context?” and “What is my purpose?” and what unique gifts do I bring to this context?

#4. Covenant.De Pree again on covenantal relationships: “It means that we spend reflective time together; that we’re vulnerable to each other; that we can challenge each other in love and deal with conflicts as mature adults.”

#5. Critique. “…evaluation is such a ticklish matter with volunteers that I have come to be a great believer in the need for written reflections as a way of gauging service and contribution.”

Imagine…if twice-a-year, every board member self-assessed their courtesy, commitment, context, and covenant—in writing—to discern if they were doing a good job. Imagine!

“Search me, O God, and know my heart; test my thoughts. Point out anything you find in me that makes you sad, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.” (Psalm 139:23-24, Living Bible)

BOARD EXERCISE: Before your next meeting, ask board members to read De Pree’s chapter, “What Does a Trustee Promise?” and then write a confidential, self-assessment, “How will I know if I’m doing a good job?” Discuss.


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.