Date Board Prospects Before You Propose Marriage

He served the shortest board term in the history of the world!


by Dan Busby and John Pearson


God's individual call is normally in line
with the gifts that you already have.
If the ministry’s mission is not closely tied to your interests,
your board service will be a draining experience . . .[1]

John Pellowe


A friend of mine holds the record for “The Shortest Board Term in the History of the World!” I’ll call him Tom here (it’s a bit embarrassing, so I’ve changed the details, including his name). His board story is a cautionary warning for other well-intentioned board nominees.

Tom’s pastor served on the board of directors of his denomination’s Christian camp and he nominated Tom for board service. Tom was honored, and his family loved the camp, so his wife encouraged him to say yes.

The camp’s executive director did the usual “blah, blah, blah” recruitment recital at a very nice steak place. He even paid! Tom heard a glowing picture of organizational health, new programs—you know, the usual hype: board service will be a nice addition to his resumé, it will enhance his career, etc. All of this was somehow packaged with appropriate piety.

Tom’s detailed description of the meeting was memorable, but then he paused in his story and whispered to me, “So how do I say this delicately? The lunch hour briefing was dismal. In fact, I may have been the first board nominee ever to ask for some pre-meeting orientation, but hey—I believed in the ministry, and I was supporting it financially. So I told him, ‘OK. I’m all in.’”

The executive director mentioned that the actual election of board members was just a formality, so in the restaurant parking lot, he opened his trunk, gave Tom four thick binders plus an official camp coffee mug, and slapped him on the back with a big, “Welcome to the board!”

Tom grimaced to me.

“Back in my car, I had this gut feeling that I’d made a really, really bad decision, but I soldiered on.”

Have you ever heard of the “cringe factor?” You know, when something abnormal or kind of embarrassing happens in a meeting?

Well, at Tom’s first board meeting, he counted at least seven cringe moments. First, the finance committee chair argued over numbers with the CFO. Then the PowerPoint didn’t work. Two board members were seriously late and unprepared.

And the worst? Tom said there was more passion, it seemed, for the dinner menu than for the organization’s vision and mission. He said it was one “cringe moment” after another.

Tom’s succinct bottom line: “I was a fish out of water.”

Tom had carpooled with his pastor to his first board meeting, and on the way home that night, his pastor perceptively noticed his silence. He said something like, “That didn’t go well, did it?”

“Long story short,” Tom admitted to me, “I told my pastor I just couldn’t serve. I called the board chair the next morning and resigned. So I guess I hold the record for the shortest board term in the history of the world!”

Tom’s story is featured in the video of the ECFA Governance Toolbox Series No. 1: Recruiting Board Members.[2] The toolbox describes four best practices to employ when inviting people to consider board service: cultivation, recruitment, orientation, and engagement.

That was Tom’s story, and it must have been very embarrassing for the executive director and the board. But more importantly, what was your story when you were invited onto the board? How much time is your governance committee (or nominating committee) investing in the “dating process” for board candidates?

If you’re married, it’s unlikely that you proposed marriage on your first date. Effective boards don’t invite candidates onto the board after just one steak lunch. While Tom could have been an outstanding board member, there was no spiritual discernment process in place. Was it the right time for the camp and for Tom? Was Tom God’s choice? There was no discussion of Tom’s gifting, strengths, or passion.

John Pellowe notes that “God’s individual call is normally gin line with the gifts that you already have.” He adds, “If the ministry’s mission is not closely tied to your interests, your board service will be a draining experience.”

Are you called to board service? Pellowe writes, “The Holy Spirit can nudge us towards those good works that God has prepared for us to do (Eph. 2:10); this nudging is usually described as a call.”[3]



The “hire slower and fire faster” axiom
applies to board prospects also.
Slow down and take time to spiritually discern if a board candidate’s
strengths, spiritual gifts, and passion are
in alignment with your board’s culture and vision.

  Board Action Steps:

  1. Educate: Before you invite prospects onto the board, view the 13-minute video and resource materials in the ECFA Governance Toolbox Series No. 1: Recruiting Board Members.
  2. Establish: Add to your Board Policies Manual, a paragraph titled “Pathway to the Board,” with guidelines for the nominating committee to follow when discerning board prospects.
  3. Enrich: Invest 20 to 30 minutes at your next board meeting to discuss (in small groups), “Ways to Enrich the Four Steps of Board Recruitment: Cultivation, Recruitment, Orientation, and Engagement.” (Use the viewing guide in the toolbox series on board recruitment.)



Lord, guide us to the men and women
who You have already nudged about serving on our board.
Protect us from selecting people
who are not Your choice at this time. Amen.


[1]John Pellowe, Serving as a Board Member: Practical Guidance for Directors of Christian Ministries (Elmira, ON, Canada: Canadian Council of Christian Charities, 2012), 4-5.

[2] ECFA Governance Toolbox Series No. 1: Recruiting Board Members—Leveraging the 4 Phases of Board Recruitment: Cultivation, Recruitment, Orientation, Engagement (Winchester, VA: ECFAPress, 2012),

[3] Pellowe, Serving as a Board Member, 4.

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.