Report Once and Report with Clarity

Hearing the same report more than once is a “10” on the pain threshold! 

 

by Dan Busby and John Pearson

 

Wasting the time of the board and board committees
with duplicative reporting
is inefficient and leads to boredom in the boardroom.

 

We had climbed onto the board reporting treadmill without recognizing it. There seemed to be no way to get off. It happened innocently enough.

We were a relatively small ministry with $2 million in annual revenue. In addition to an executive committee, an audit committee, and a governance committee, our board had a finance committee, a development committee, and a program committee. Every board member was on at least one committee, and some served on at least two. We routinely scheduled a full day prior to the board meeting just for the committees to meet.

We had an executive for each major area: finance, develop­ment, and program. So it only made sense that each executive should prepare a report for every board meeting, include it in the advance materials, and regurgitate the report in the respective committee meeting. After all, each committee needed to be regularly fed.

Perhaps your board does not have this many committees, so the excitement accompanying the double reporting all takes place at the board level.

Then, adding agony to frustration, the reports from the leadership team grew longer and longer, with few or no graphics. The reports were so voluminous that each board committee struggled to wade through them. Moreover, the details of these reports were totally lost on the board members who did not serve on the respective reporting committee. If the board ever did receive executive summaries, they were few and far between.

Our board did not have term limits, so it was a rare occurrence to see a new face at the board table. The board lifers never questioned the committee or reporting structure. The structure had become a way of life, so the process just rolled on and on.

Then one day, Ben passed away, leaving an open board seat. In due course, Sally was elected.

It was our custom for each board member to complete a one-page board evaluation after each meeting. The evaluations were summarized, and the results were provided to the board chair and the governance committee chair.

Sally, as a new board member, did not hold anything back. She was frustrated to the hilt. She had dutifully waded through all of the reports provided in the advance materials—page by page, line by line, and word by word. In her evaluation, Sally said the reports were poorly written in general, and the lack of summarization of the issues was especially troubling.

Sally had been assigned to the development committee. So she asked the chief development officer to spend an hour explaining his report. Sally asked a few pertinent questions, and all were met with, “That is the way we have always done this,” “You will understand this better after you have been on the board for a few years,” and “Fundraising is too complex a topic for most board members to under­stand.” Sally had some choice comments after this interchange.

How can a board like this improve? It may want to rethink the concept of term limits. It may want to reconsider the number of committees. Whether or not the board needs to address some of these issues peripheral to the reporting matter, here are some essential considerations:

  • Report once. If a board committee (or member of the executive team) has prepared a detailed written report for the board, the executive summary of the report can be summarized in a verbal report.
  • Use executive summaries. For every detailed report, there should be an executive summary that draws the attention of board members to the most salient information. Detailed reports can often be limited to three pages.
  • Use action-only reporting. Consider submitting committee reports to the board only if there is potential action being recommended by a committee.
  • Use of infographics. When possible, use infographics to communicate the message.

As Mike Pate, Executive Director of Camping for Transformation Ministries, says, “There are few things in life worse than a bad meeting, and actually few things better than a great meeting! The quality and clarity of your board reporting will go a long way to improving the engagement, and ultimately the effectiveness, of your board meetings!”[1]

Effective reporting to the board is an art. It is rarely done with excellence. The tendency is to drown in details instead of reflecting on the big picture. Reporting once and reporting with clarity can keep the board out of the weeds and focused on the mission of the ministry.

 

BOARDROOM LESSON
_______________________________

How much is duplicative reporting costing your board?
Just place an hourly value on a board member’s time,
multiply it by the number of board members,
and again by the number of reporting hours.

  Board Action Steps:

  1. Assess: Review the current process and the extent of the reporting by staff to the board.
  2. Improve: Determine how the process and reporting could be improved, then update appropriate sections of your Board Policies Manual.[2]
  3. Change: Commit to make the changes necessary to provide excellence in reporting to the board.

 

Prayer

Lord, help our staff to report what should be reported
to the board and do it with such clarity
that You are glorified. Amen.

 

 

[1] Mike Pate, “Report Once and Report with Clarity,” Lessons From the Nonprofit Boardroom (blog), May 23, 2018, http://nonprofitboardroom.blogspot.com/2018/05/lesson-27-report-once-and-report-with.html.

[2] Fred Laughlin and Bob Andringa, authors of Good Governance for Nonprofits, offer helpful guidelines for characteristics of good board reports at http://theandringagroup.com/resources.
 

From Lessons From the Nonprfit Boardroom: 40 Insights for Better Board Meetings, 2018, 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.

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