Decrease Staff Reporting and Increase Heavy Lifting

Consider the good, the bad, and the ugly.


by Dan Busby and John Pearson


You start by introducing your topic.
Then you say, “If I were you, I’d ask three questions about this topic.”
Write the questions on a flip chart.
Answer the three questions. Then stop.[1]

Joey Asher

Like you, we’ve observed and endured our fair share of staff reports at board meetings. The most common sins follow this routine:

  • The five direct reports to the CEO prepare single-spaced monthly reports (two to three pages each).
  • The narratives (maybe with a few numbers) describe the last 30 days and are activity oriented, not results focused.
  • Reports rarely mention a team member’s progress on the three to five annual SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-driven) because goals for the team (and the CEO) are not part of the culture.
  • Then each team member reads the same report at the board meeting—the worst sin of all.

Staff reports, in our experience, fit into three categories: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. We’ll start with the ugly so we end on a high note.


The Problem: Ill-prepared and unrehearsed, some senior staff see a verbal board report as their opportunity to dazzle the board should the CEO be downed by the proverbial bus. It’s all too obvious and frequently cringe-worthy. The “ugly” reports are rarely short and pithy—or helpful to the board’s role. They often regurgitate written reports that many board members stopped reading years ago.

The Solution: CEOs must coach senior staff so their reports are humble, accurate, and related to board policy at the highest level. When staff misunderstand the role of the board and the proper role of staff reports at the board meeting, it’s often too tempting for board members to inappropriately engage and micromanage the tantalizing topics served up by staff. The board chair must nip this in the bud!

Every report-giver should read 15 Minutes Including Q&A: A Plan to Save the World from Lousy Presentations by Joey Asher. The book’s very first paragraph is your red flag:

Most business presentations stink. Really stink. They stink in a way that drains souls. They stink in a way that makes people think to themselves, “I flew in from LA for this? Maybe my mom was right. Maybe I should have gone to medical school.”[2]


The Problem: Even with a well-coached staff member who understands where the board has landed on the policy governance continuum, bad things do happen—and it’s often spelled “PowerPoint.”

The Solution: Board guru Eugene H. Fram preaches, “The maximum number of slides in a PowerPoint presentation is ten.” (Asher says six.) Fram’s book Going for Impact has nine more rules in the short chapter “How to Use Board Members’ Time Wisely.”[3]

Balance the 10-slide edict with the social styles of your board members.[4] Analyticals thrive on data. Drivers prefer just five slides. Amiables would enjoy PowerPoints with relationship stories and photos. And you’ll bless Expressives by inserting photos of them!


The Problem: You’d think board members would appreciate a buttoned-down, quick staff presentation on the 2020 Vision Project: on schedule, under budget, high customer satisfaction ratings, and powerful Kingdom impact. No problems! That’s always good news, but remember this: board members need to be needed.

Even when delivering excellent reports, the CEO and staff must discern how to engage board members and inspire their best thinking and discernment.

The Solution: Ed McDowell, executive director at Warm Beach Camp and Conference Center in Stanwood, WA, works with his board chair to allocate one to two hours at each quarterly board meeting for what they call “heavy lifting.” Here the board practices generative thinking and wrestles with a big ministry opportunity or dilemma.

In response to CEO and staff reports, big issues, and opportunities, boards should pray, discern, and welcome conflicting views. And (this really happens!) they drive home from those meetings with a holy sense that they were needed, and each oar in the water actually mattered!



Encourage your CEO to coach all senior team members
prior to every board meeting on the role of the board
(usually policy, not down-in-the-weeds) and the opportunity to
engage the board in heavy lifting—board-level matters
that need their wisdom, spiritual discernment, and hearts.

  Board Action Steps:

  1. Recommend: Encourage your CEO and every person who gives board reports to read 15 Minutes Including Q&A by Joey Asher.
  2. Test: For the next two meetings, test a rule that no presentation may have more than 10 PowerPoint slides.
  3. Pray: The next time all of your CEO’s senior staff are scheduled to be in the boardroom, create a memorable time of prayer and affirmation. In advance, for example, arrange for five board members to pray for the five team members. Perhaps give team members a specially selected Scripture verse for their desks as a reminder that the board has their back!



Lord, as board members, we don’t do the work.
We are dependent on our CEO and team members who do the work.
Give them wisdom as they report and give us discernment as we wrestle
with those heavy lifting agenda items. Amen.




[1] Joey Asher, 15 Minutes Including Q&A: A Plan to Save the World from Lousy Presentations (Atlanta: Persuasive Speaker Press, 2010), 49.

[2] Ibid., 1.

[3] Eugene H. Fram with Vicki Brown, Going for Impact: The Nonprofit Director’s Essential Guidebook (Self-published: CreateSpace, 2016), 103.

[4] For more on the four social styles, visit

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.