Monitoring (Not Micro-managing) Programs and Services

By John Pearson

Here’s a common question from board members: “How do we appropriately monitor programs, products, and services without becoming micro-managers?”

According to BoardSource’s Ten Basic Responsibilities of Nonprofit Boards, the fifth responsibility is to monitor and strengthen programs and services. “The board’s fundamental responsibilities begin with ensuring that current and proposed programs and services align with the organization’s stated mission and purposes.”

Richard T. Ingram adds, “What the organization actually does, and how well it does it, should be at the heart of board curiosity.”

So how do you discern “how well it does it” without getting into the weeds?  I tilt toward customer/client survey information to keep the board at a high level.  In assessing organizational activities, Ingram lists four bullet points including this:
   • “Studying both the cost-benefit ratio of major undertakings and user satisfaction data (hearing from users of certain programs and services) to facilitate an exchange of information and learning.”

I’ve observed ministry boards use a variety of user satisfaction data including:
• Conducting focus groups with their “primary customers” (per Peter Drucker’s definition)
• Assessing their Net Promoter Score (one ministry I work with has improved its score from 52, to 56, to 58 in the last three years)
• Using inexpensive online survey tools, like SurveyMonkey

Excellent boards inspire their CEOs and senior team members to set annual customer satisfaction goals—and then report on them (quarterly is helpful, annually is essential). Multi-year benchmarking trends will help the board discern program directions and the allocation of resources to where the results are most promising.

Excellent boards balance cost-benefit ratios with Henry Blackaby’s classic aspiration, “Find out what God is doing and then join Him.”

When CEOs and board chairs observe that their board members are micro-managing, they stop and ask if it’s because the board has failed to affirm three to five annual “S.M.A.R.T.” goals for the CEO (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-related). Or, if the goals are in writing (and in the minutes), perhaps the CEO is not reporting goal progress in monthly or quarterly reports.

For the Christ-centered board, a focus on S.M.A.R.T. goals and dashboard reports (including one for customer satisfaction) also becomes a focus on prayer. An occasional email from a board member to the CEO (“How can I pray more effectively about your five annual goals this month?”) will bless the socks off any CEO!

QUESTION: Facilitate an around-the-board-table quick response exercise to this question, “Are we appropriately affirming, monitoring, and assessing our ministry’s programs, products, and services? If not, what should we change in the next 30 days?"


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.