Improving Your Board—One Step at a Time

by Dan Busby

Ever feel like the governing board on which you serve could be more effective? You have read the books on governance. You are on information overload.  

You are confident you need to make governance changes, but you have many questions. Is this the right time to make changes? Can the board make the needed changes itself? Do you need the help of a governance consultant and, if so, whom and at what cost? Where do you start?

Start by stopping—stopping to take inventory of the board’s current culture and then introduce gradual changes—one step at a time. The paradox is that when we go slow in introducing change, it positions us to go fast as a group, and it models Christ in a more significant way, as no one gets left behind.

While there is no governance “success sequence” that fits all organizations—what to do first and second—here are some insights that can help a ministry board examine its current culture and determine positive governance steps that will achieve noticeable improvement.

Governing bodies tend to welcome change in “seasons” of change. Boards have seasons just as ministries have seasons. It is difficult for a board to change when the board is not in a season of change—you can only help board members want to change. Pressing too hard for major governance changes when the board is not in a season of change is a recipe for governance disaster.

How can you discern if a board is in a season of change? Ask the Holy Spirit to give you discernment in this area. A spirit of change may have arrived with the retirement or terming off of some former board members and the addition of a few new board members. Or, a significant event—internal or external—may have occurred, causing the board to refocus.

A ministry’s governance culture cannot change unless individuals are willing to change their behavior. Even when you discern the board is in a season of change, you still need individuals—catalysts—to champion change! The president/CEO and the board chair are the gatekeepers of change—without their support, governance changes rarely occur.

Replace old approaches with new ones. Fine-tuning old governance approaches may be helpful, but this will only produce minor improvements. Accomplishing big change ultimately requires replacing old approaches with new ones. Identify each old approach that needs to change and specifically determine how to improve in that area.

Make a list of possible governance culture changes. What are the most significant changes that the ministry could make in its governance culture? Identify them and include them on a list for the future.

Draft or update your board policy manual. If your ministry does not have a board policy manual, perhaps it’s time to put one together. This project could take a year, or two, or three. It will take some serious planning to get the ball rolling on this. If you already have a board policy manual, is it time to review and revise it?

Evaluate frequency of meetings and structure of the board. Does the executive committee meet so frequently that other board members feel displaced and consider the executive committee a “super committee?” Does the board have a high number of committees? Is there openness to reduce the number of standing committees and introduce the concept of task forces?

Start with a few modest changes. Whatever the potential changes, start with a list of changes needed and balance the importance of the change with the likelihood of the board approving the change.

Discern your strengths and giftedness. An increasing number of boards are profitably using the StrengthFinders™ tool. This is an easy step. Ask board members to complete the assessment along with a spiritual gifts inventory. Place the top five strengths and the top two spiritual gifts on each member’s tent card at every board meeting. Prepare a summary of the strengths and spiritual gifts of each board member and place it in each board book. These tools can help board members function interdependently at a high level.

Continuous governance change only occurs with continual introspection. Even if a ministry board is performing effectively, continual review of governance practices is necessary to keep positive changes moving forward. How does your board do this? Completing a simple survey at the conclusion of each board meeting may be a good strategy.

Changes in governance culture may represent breakthroughs. Only God knows which governance change or combination of changes will result in a major breakthrough. How will you know when you see it? Here are just a few of the telltale signs:

  • The Holy Spirit brings unity. Only the Spirit of God can unite the hearts and minds of ministry leadership and board members—before, during, and after board meetings.
  • The board prays and prays often. Beyond praying to begin and close board meetings, does the board frequently stop to pray—prayers of praise as evidences of God’s blessing are acknowledged and prayers for discernment as the board considers major issues?
  • The CEO and the board work together. While everyone may not start at the same position on every issue, after an interchange of viewpoints, the CEO and the board find common ground.
  • The board feels respected. Their input is sought and valued. They receive thorough board materials in adequate time to review them before the board meeting.
  • Everyone experiences a pyramiding effect. As ideas are exchanged between the president/CEO and the board and between board members, there is a compounding—a pyramiding of thought—so the board’s final conclusion is much stronger than the initial proposal.

Acknowledging small gains. When a board has performed particularly “boardly” during a meeting, celebrate even these small victories in improved governance.

The goal is progress, not perfection. Do you have a perfect board? After serving 110 man-years on nonprofit boards—mostly in the church and ministry world—I have seen a few outstanding boards, a few poor boards, and many in between—but never a perfect one. My prayer is that your board moves forward—one step at a time!

 


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


Follow @ecfa