New Board Members: Acronyms and Anxiety!

By John Pearson

Today I hope to inspire you to walk a mile in the work boots of a new board member.

Although new board members may play it cool—and pretend to know what’s going on—few really grasp the culture or protocol of a board in their first few meetings. Every board is unique. Every board’s lingo is unique. Ask any board member about their first impressions and they’ll share several anxiety-producing board practices. Here are two:

#1. The Excessive Use of Acronyms and Inside Baseball Jargon. “As you all know, funding for the M2 Program is now at 65 percent. Once the 2020 Vision announcement is blasted out in the X-Ray to our Century Club segment, the B&G Committee will address the gap budget ASAP.”


Savvy board chairs (and CEOs) must be in-the-room translators for report-givers who are not sensitive to rookies in the room. And…new board members must be given permission to interrupt at the first (and twenty-first) mention of an acronym that doesn’t compute.

The best boards provide a one-page “Commonly Used Acronyms” summary as part of the new board member orientation process.

#2. The Assumption That There Is a Common Glossary of Terms. When you use the term “governance,” is everyone on the same page? And is there agreement on what governance model you’re using? Probably not.

BoardSource defines the term, "governance," in their “Glossary of Nonprofit Governance,” a helpful five-page list of 99 common board terms, including: board member matrix, confidentiality clause, D&O (Directors and Officers) insurance, duty of care, duty of loyalty, Form 990, intermediate sanctions, micromanagement (they’re opposed to it!) and private inurement.

“Governance: the legal authority of a board to establish policies that will affect the life and work of the organization and accountability for the outcome of such decisions.”

Would everyone on your board (including new members) agree with this definition of governance?

My favorite definition of governance for faith-based organizations is this one from David Tiede, president emeritus of Luther Seminary:

“Within Christ-centered organizations, governance is the stewardship of powers to accomplish the mission in service of the Church’s calling.”

The big idea here: remember what it was like in your first year on the board. Then, what must you do to create greater clarity and engagement for new members? When you eliminate acronyms, you’ll eliminate considerable anxiety.

QUESTION: Ask your newer board members: “What created unnecessary anxiety in your first year on the board?”



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.