Called to Serve: Challenged With Measurable Work

By John Pearson

Note: This is the fourth 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. (Click on the link to order the book for every board member.)

Last week, we looked at the first five marks of an effective board from Max De Pree, former chairman and CEO of Herman Miller. And—get this—De Pree is just warming up. We’re only at page 21 today! Here are the final five:

#6. An effective board works seriously at the growth, needs, and potential of its members. Clearly, we could invest a dozen blogs on this one topic. Savor his sub-points:
• “I have always thought about board members as perpetual volunteers. The best of them are like lifetime free agents.”
• “Because the best board members have many opportunities and choices, the organization and its leaders develop programs for the care and feeding of these vital volunteers.”
“They are challenged with measurable work, and maybe most important, they are thanked.”

#7. An effective board provides to the institution wisdom, wealth, work, and witness.De Pree cautions boards not to play down what you expect of board members. “Misleading expectations result in nothing but grief. To tell you the truth, good people don’t want to be part of something that requires little of them.

While De Pree suggests you get at least two of the four W’s from every board member (wisdom, wealth, work, and witness), I agree with John Frank’s insight that Christ-followers must be all in. (Read my review of Stewardship as a Lifestyle: Seeking to Live as a Steward and Disciple, by John R. Frank, CFRE.)

#8. An effective board is intimate with its responsibilities. What a rich word—intimate! Here De Pree says that the best boards have board members who understand your diverse constituencies. That’s not easy. In Peter Drucker “supporting customers” lingo, that would mean at least one board member understands donors, another board member knows her way around local government, and perhaps another board member is conversant with the changing dynamics of your millennial customers. Again…not easy, and not always possible. But great boards set the bar high with written and agreed-upon criteria for future board members.

#9. An effective board decides what it will measure and does it. So important! Read this discussion from last month, “What Will You Measure in 2017?

#10. An effective board plans time for reflection. What does that look like for your board? Some recommend allocating time in each board meeting for “heavy lifting”—when energy and spirits are high and engaged—to tackle a big issue, or a first pass at a future fork-in-the-road decision. Without the crunch of a deadline that squeezes all the creativity and joy out of the board, you can set aside time for prayer, reflection and discernment.

As Ruth Haley Barton observes when Moses encountered the burning bush, “God spoke because Moses stopped, paused, noticed, turned aside!”(See Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership, Chapter 4, “The Practice of Paying Attention.”)

BOARDROOM EXERCISE: As you reflect on these five marks of effective boards—which one has your board mastered? Which one needs more work? If you’re “called to serve” how are you enriching your board service competencies?


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.