The Gold Standard Question for Board Members

By John Pearson

This week I’m conducting one-on-one phone interviews with nine board members who serve together on a ministry board. Here’s my favorite question:

“You’re driving away from a ‘typical’ board meeting (or sharing the experience with a friend or family member), and you say, ‘THAT WAS A GREAT BOARD MEETING TODAY!’ Tell me, what happened at the board meeting to provoke that positive response?

I call this my Gold Standard Question because the responses are always immediately indicative of a board member’s satisfaction level with his or her board experience.

Over the years, when I ask this question, board members with unsatisfactory experiences often respond:
• “No one asked me for advice, wisdom, counsel or ideas.”
• “The staff read the reports that all of us had read in advance.”
• “Boring. Routine. Pure agony.”
• “Clearly, I’m not needed at the board table. The CEO did all the talking.”
• “There was no sense of the holy, except the perfunctory bookend prayers.”

Conversely—here’s what highly committed, deeply engaged, thrilled-to-be-serving board members tell me:
• “Everyone’s prepared. Everyone participates. Everyone prays. It’s the best board I have ever served on!”
• “It happens all the time! We’ve deleted the petty stuff and focus on the important agenda items only. And…we’re on target financially.”

One board member outlined four primary ingredients of memorable board meetings:
1. There is deep joy—consistently in every meeting.
2. The board is focused on strategic issues.
3. Energetic discussions abound! “We’re not looking for agreement—we’re looking for insight. Spiritual insight.”
4. There is solidarity. “We foster a board culture that eliminates the unhealthy giving up of personal beliefs for the sake of unity. Instead, we wait for the Spirit of God to speak.”

Wow! I pray that your board has frequent moments of the above and that when board members drive or fly home, their post-meeting evaluation is joy-filled!

QUESTION: “Before we start this meeting, we’ll ask every board member to think back and tell us about a GREAT board meeting you attended—and why it was so memorable.”


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.