Five Troublesome Misconceptions of Board Members

Understanding board member myths can lead to improved governing effectiveness.

 

by Dan Busby and John Pearson

 

Many misconceptions of board members can be eliminated
through healthy dialogue and early education.

 

Some individuals join ministry boards thinking their responsibilities will be an easy task. What a misconception! And in many cases, the larger the ministry, the more challenging the board service. This work is only for committed, serious-minded followers of Christ.

Identifying and overcoming misconceptions through board education is an important and ongoing process. Here are five governance misconceptions that should be addressed:

  • Misconception #1. Board members know exactly what to do once they are elected to the board.

Many new board members take their seat with little or no ministry board experience. In fact, they may have little board experience of any kind. ECFA research says that one in five boards need “much” or “major” help in better orienting new board members.[1] If their board experience was on the board of a large for-profit corporation, the board may have only met twice a year compared to the more frequent meetings of many ministries.

Board members often express frustration over the CEO’s expectations. As Michael Anthony says, “It was as if the day they were elected to the board, the [CEO] assumed that a mantle of wisdom and discernment came magically on them from on high.”[2]

Little or no board experience heightens the importance of board training. Unfortunately, training rarely occurs for ministry board members. They are expected to be “trained on the job.”

Larry Osborne writes, “Frustrated with our inability to find time to deal with these vital issues, I hit on an idea. “Why not schedule an extra monthly meeting to deal exclusively with (1) team building, (2) training, and (3) prayer.”[3]

  • Misconception #2. Board members have a great deal of free time.

The best board members are almost always the busiest of people. If CEOs fail to recognize the often-frenzied lives of board members, they do so at their own peril.

Especially if both spouses work and there are children living at home, it is challenging to find time for frequent board meetings, let alone the additional board meetings called perhaps with little notice.

One possible solution to avoiding burnout of board members is to adopt a policy that board members do not serve in any other capacity in the ministry. While there is the temptation to also direct an outreach event, it is usually best for board members to focus their energies on their highest calling at the ministry—the board.
 

  • Misconception #3. Most board members have a basic understanding of nonprofit finances, including fundamental tax issues.

Even board members who have served on a ministry board for years may find it challenging to comprehend financial data. There are several reasons for this:

  • Nonprofit financial data is rarely presented to the board in comprehensible form. This is often not the fault of the staff or volunteers who have financial reporting responsibilities. Computer software available for nonprofits often limits meaningful communication of the data.

  • Savvy financial statement readers must master the concepts of accounting methods (accrual, modified cash, and cash), expensing or capitalizing property and equipment, depreciation of property and equipment, reporting restricted (designated) gifts, and much more.

  • Misconception #4. Nonprofits are simple entities and they are easily understood by board members.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Even smaller ministries find themselves slogging along in a swamp of regulations, tax filings, legal issues and more.

Ministries face a landscape filled with payroll tax filings even if they have just one employee. Then there are filings for independent contractors. Some ministries must also file unrelated business income tax returns.

No, nonprofits are not simple entities. Serving on a governing board at a nonprofit ministry is not for the weak at heart.
 

  • Misconception #5. It is easy for ministry boards to avoid micromanaging.

Steve Stroope says, “One of the key dangers for boards is the temptation to micromanage, which does not allow staff leaders to do their jobs or execute the responsibilities for which they were hired. Micromanaging boards come about partially due to the fact that [board members] have not been properly trained in regards to their roles.”[4] At Lake Pointe Church in Houston, where Steve pastored for many years, elders are given a detailed policy about the board and its relationship to the pastor.

Boards must say no to most issues that could create agenda clutter. Simply because the CEO or a board member proposes an agenda item does not mean the board should discuss it. While saying no to agenda items is not easy, the health of the board, and perhaps the ministry, is at stake.[5]

Identifying and understanding boardroom misconceptions will enable your board to improve its effectiveness. It’s worth the effort!

 

BOARDROOM LESSON
_______________________________

Understand the key misconceptions about board members and board service.
How effectively the ministry deals with these misconceptions
will greatly determine the impact of the board.

  Board Action Steps:

  1. Identify: Identify what misconceptions might exist concerning your board members and their board service.

  2. Confirm: Confirm which misconceptions really exist by discussing common misconceptions with the board or by taking an informal poll of board members regarding their perceptions of board service.

  3. Go to Work: Take appropriate steps to address each misconception. Educate the board until all misconceptions are eliminated.

 

Prayer

Lord, thank You for every board member
and the time each person invests in this holy calling.
Give us courage—and grace—to address misconceptions
that can diminish our effectiveness. Amen.

 

 

 

[1] Warren Bird, Unleashing Your Board’s Potential: Comprehensive Report from ECFA’s Nonprofit Governance Survey (Winchester, VA: ECFAPress, 2019), 46.

[2] Michael J. Anthony, The Effective Church Board (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2000), 35-40.

[3] Ibid., 36 (quoting Larry Osborne).

[4] Steve Stroope and Kurt Bruner, Tribal Church: Lead Small, Impact BIG (Nashville: B&H, 2012), 108.

[5] Thom S. Ranier and Eric Geiger, Simple Church (Nashville, TN: B&H, 2011), 200–1.

 

From More Lessons From the Nonprofit Boardroom: Effectiveness, Excellence, Elephants!, 2019, www.ECFA.org/KnowledgeCenter.


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.

Navigation