Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Best Board Books #9: Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board


Max De Pree writes,
“There is a reason why this is a small book. We want it to be useful, but not a burden.” So…here’s my ninth nominee in this “best board books” series.


Book #9: 
Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board, by Max De Pree (Order from Amazon)

I tilt towards books that lean towards the contrarian quadrant. Example: former USC President Steven Sample's book, The Contrarian’s Guide to Leadership. Before buying a book, he prefers a five-minute conversation with someone who has already read it.

So when I had a five-minute conversation with consultant and author Dave Coleman about Max De Pree’s 91-page contrarian gem, it fed my board governance book-addicted soul. I love this book and the title: Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board.

Contrarian Max De Pree (1924-2017) writes:
   • “We believe good people need reminders and an occasional nudge, not a sermon.”
   • “A good board will measure the appropriate inputs as well as the outputs. Failure to measure what matters damages our future.”
   • “My friend Jim Beré…once told me that he would serve only on boards that had hard-working executive committees.”

Commenting on board committees, De Pree notes the story of the English visitor who watched his first American football game and observed, “The game combines the two worst elements of American culture—violence and committee meetings.”

Rather than penning a 300-page snoozer, De Pree crafts a coaching conversation (a series of letters) with a young leader and his first CEO/board relationship. It’s easy reading and the short epistles are extraordinary.

Board service, writes De Pree, should be “demanding in the best sense of the word.” He lists three other characteristics of great boards:
   • Lively
   • Effective
   • Fun to serve on

CEOs will appreciate every page: “…the chief responsibility of boards is to be effective on behalf of the organization.” He adds, “Effective boards, in a nutshell: 
   • remember the long view,
   • remember that the president and staff are human,
   • and do the work of the board…”
   • Plus this: “Most of the work of the board takes place through the implementation of an agenda.”

More contrarian pokes-in-the-ribs:
   • “Many high-priced consultants will tell you to have the shortest possible mission statement. I don’t happen to think that is such a great idea.”
   • “I feel that the closer an organization comes to being defined as a movement, the closer it will come to fulfilling its potential.”
   • “I’m a great believer that management should be invited into the board’s world but that the board should not go into management’s area.”
   • “The chairperson should not permit anyone to read to the board.


Max De Pree served as board chair of Fuller Seminary—and get this—the seminary honored him with the establishment of the Max De Pree Center for Leadership in 1996. His day job was with Herman Miller, the office furniture company, where he served as president from 1980 to 1987 (and as a board member until 1995). His book, Leadership Is an Art, has sold more than 800,000 copies. (See also Leading Without Power: Finding Hope in Serving Community.)
Effective boards do very good planning, says De Pree. He lists three planning questions and then suggests who must be involved in the planning. “…some people need to be involved, to be blunt, because they are going to pay the bill.”

He balances the CFO’s involvement in planning with this: “Planning by the board ought always to include the chief financial officer, a bringer of necessary reality to the process. Of course, the chief financial officer should never have a role that stymies the vision. Some realities have priority over numbers.”

Oh, my—I could write another 30 blogs on his contrarian coaching! (In fact—I did!) See the index to the 30-blog series here.

More Wisdom:
   • “Loyalty by itself is never sufficient. You always have to link loyalty and competence.”
   • “When an organization demands true leadership and the results justify the time and energy, good boards respond with gusto.”
   • “Another crime, it seems to me, is to give really good people poor leadership.”

Trust me—this book will not disappoint. All 91 pages are packed with power. Perfect snippets for your “10 Minutes for Governance” segment at every board meeting. (You do that, right?

BOARD DISCUSSION: De Pree recommends that “Key proposals and issues like building programs or fund drives should always come to the board through its committees at least twice.” Think back for three years—has this been your practice?

MORE RESOURCES: Check out the “40 Blogs. 40 Wednesdays.” color commentaries on Lessons From the Nonprofit Boardroom, by Dan Busby and John Pearson, including Lesson 31, “Cut the Cord! Invite Board Members to Exit When They Don’t Live Your Values.”

Monday, September 24, 2018

Best Board Books #8 – The Practitioner's Guide to Governance as Leadership


While this is not a “Governance for Dummies” book—just turn to page 13 and the classic four-quadrant chart delivers an insightful summary on four governance scenarios. Just read that page and you’ve got the big picture.


Book #8: The Practitioner's Guide to Governance as Leadership: Building High-Performing Nonprofit Boards, by Cathy A. Trower (Order from Amazon)

Governance as Leadership: Reframing the Work of Nonprofit Boards, by Richard P. Chait, William P. Ryan, and Barbara E. Taylor (Order from Amazon)

Note: The Practitioner's Guide to Governance as Leadership (2013) is a deep dive into the 2005 book, Governance as Leadership. I’d suggest you read one, but not both.

The books describe four basic scenarios for nonprofit boards and three types of governance.  

“Governance by Fiat” is the first scenario. That’s when trustees displace executives. Here the board does staff work. Sometimes the staff is incompetent so the board jumps in. Often the board enjoys staff work.  Either way, it’s dysfunctional.

“Governance by Default” is the second scenario. Here both the trustees and the nonprofit executives disengage. No one has their eye on the governance ball—and the important work of governance is minimized. Left undone, it’s a train wreck waiting to happen.

“Leadership as Governance” sounds good, but it’s cockeyed. Here the nonprofit staff displace the trustees. The CEO and/or senior team make decisions that should be in the governance arena. This happens frequently with founder-led organizations and “good old boy” boards. Often, the organization appears to be operating smoothly. Internally, this dysfunction never ends well. Sooner or later, someone will pay.


The fourth scenario is the healthy one, what the authors call “Type III Governance.” Here the trustees and executives collaborate. Each understands their appropriate roles, but unlike most boards, the staff affirms the board members when they upgrade to “generative thinking.”

So what’s “generative thinking?” The authors use a variety of definitions to explain this cognitive process of excelling boards: sense-making, reflective practice, framing organizations, personal knowledge, etc. I liked “sensible foolishness” the best. 

Generative thinking goes beyond “fiduciary governance” (Type I) and beyond “strategic governance” (Type II).  This “Type III” approach typically involves three steps: 1) Noticing cues and clues: different people can take the same data and arrive at different meanings; 2) Choosing and using frames: understanding the “fuzzy front end” of a product development process, for example; and 3) Thinking retrospectively: the counter-intuitive high value of “dwelling on the past” to understand patterns that might impact the future.

“Generative thinking is essential to governing,” the authors note. “As long as governing means what most people think it means—setting the goals and direction of an organization and holding management accountable for progress toward these goals—then generative thinking has to be essential to governing. Generative thinking is where goal-setting and direction-setting originate. The contributions boards make to mission-setting, strategy-development, and problem solving certainly shape organizations. But it is cues and frames, along with retrospective thinking, that enable the sense-making on which these other processes depend.”

Yikes! Think about this final zinger from the authors: “And a closer examination of nonprofits suggests something else: Although generative work is essential to governing, boards do very little of it.

BOARD DISCUSSION: The authors comment, “in their ‘day jobs’ as managers, professionals, or leaders of organizations, trustees routinely rely on generative thinking, so much so they have no need to name it or analyze it. They just do it. But in the boardroom, trustees are at a double disadvantage. Most boards do not routinely practice generative thinking.”  They add, “When it comes to generative governing, most trustees add too little, too late.” Do you agree?

MORE RESOURCES: Check out the “40 Blogs. 40 Wednesdays.” color commentaries on Lessons From the Nonprofit Boardroom, by Dan Busby and John Pearson, including Lesson 38, “Great Boards Delegate Their Reading.” 

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Best Board Books #7 - The Nonprofit Board Answer Book


You have questions—here are 85 answers from another must-have governance book in this series on the best board books.


Book #7: The Nonprofit Board Answer Book: A Practical Guide for Board Members and Chief Executives (3rd Edition), published by BoardSource  (Order from Amazon)

Peter Drucker, the father of modern management, said, “My greatest strength as a consultant is to be ignorant and ask a few questions.”

“Behind every good answer lies a good question,” says BoardSource in the introduction to the third edition of this jam-packed resource. Now with 85 questions and answers, it’s a must-have tool for both new and veteran board members as you inspire them to be life-long governance learners. Suggestion: bring it to every board meeting—and pass it around the room. It will be irresistible to your board members in their search for proof texts!

When you scan the table of contents, dozens of relevant questions will jump off the page—and tempt you to read the crisp, well-written two- to four-page answers. Examples:

Part One: Basic Board Functions
1. What are the basic responsibilities of a nonprofit board? 
5. What is the board’s role in strategic planning?
7. What is the board’s role in fundraising?
9. How does the board avoid the extremes of “rubber stamping” and micromanaging?

Part Two: Board Structure
13. What is the best size for our board?
19. What is the role of the board chair? 
21. How should we select our board officers?

Part Three: Board Member Selection and Development
23. How can we recruit active, involved board members?
25. What is the chief executive’s role in board recruitment?
32. What should we do about uninvolved board members?

Part Four: Board and Committee Meetings
41. How can we encourage debate while promoting civility in the boardroom?
42. What is the purpose of a board retreat?
44. How should staff members participate in board and committee meetings?


Part Five: The Board’s Role as a Fiduciary
52. What are the signs of financial distress in an organization?
54. What policies and practices should we adopt to manage conflicts of interest? 
57. Why should every board member make an annual monetary contribution?
58. How can we develop board members’ fundraising skills?
59. How can we generate revenue beyond fundraising?

Part Six: Board-Staff Relations
64. What is the ideal relationship between the board chair and the chief executive?
67. How should we evaluate the chief executive?
68. How do we set fair compensation for the chief executive and the staff?
70. What is the board’s role in relation to the staff?
72. How can we facilitate the end of a chief executive’s employment?

Part Seven: Organizational Change
75. What is the typical lifecycle for a nonprofit organization?
76. How do we ensure that the organization thrives after the founders depart? 

The first edition, written by Robert Andringa and Ted Engstrom (1916-2006), built the reliable rails for the second and third editions. This is an excellent resource.

BOARD DISCUSSION: Question 77 asks, “When should an organization consider revising its mission statement?” (Not this year! We just spent $5,000 framing it on the reception wall!) BoardSource recommends you review the mission statement’s relevance annually and “discuss whether new laws, dramatic economic or environmental shifts, other organizations entering the picture, or other changes may justify a revision.” When is the last time we have seriously reviewed our mission statement?

MORE RESOURCES: Check out the “40 Blogs. 40 Wednesdays.” color commentaries on Lessons From the Nonprofit Boardroom, by Dan Busby and John Pearson, including Lesson 39, “Invest ’10 Minutes for Governance’ in Every Board Meeting.” 

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Best Board Books #6 - Serving as a Board Member: Practical Guidance for Directors of Christian Ministries


As a reminder—the prompt for this current blog series is the question I’m frequently asked, “What governance book would you recommend we read before our next board and senior team retreat?” Here’s another nominee:


Book #6: Serving as a Board Member: Practical Guidance for Directors of Christian Ministries, by John Pellowe (click to order from Amazon)

My standard response to this question is to ask a series of questions. What books have your board members already read? Any new board members? Any stuck-in-a-rut board members? Do they need the basics on governance, or a kick-in-the-vision? Is it time for an inspirational book on decision-making and spiritual discernment? Are they readers or listeners? (Time for a video?) Are board members way too busy? Then maybe just a really, really skinny book—with big print and lots of white space? Faith-based or not?

I’ve often recommended John Pellowe’s book because he speaks with requisite governance mileage—not theory. As CEO of the Canadian Council of Christian Charities since 2003, he’s seen his fair share of boardroom challenges.

Based on a seminar, and a DVD of the same title, the book is one of the best Christ-centered governance books available. Right from the get-go in the first chapter, “Readiness to Serve,” Pellowe speaks to the hearts of future board members about passion and calling:

   • “If the ministry’s mission is not closely tied to your interests, your board service will be a draining experience…”
   • “The Holy Spirit can nudge us towards those good works that God has prepared for us to do (Eph. 2:10); this nudging is usually described as a call.”
   • “God’s individual call is normally in line with the gifts that you already have.”

He adds, “You really should be able to think theologically about the mission, governance, and leadership of the ministry you are serving. If you are new to the Christian faith, you may not yet be well enough equipped for board service in a Christian ministry.”


The book’s format is unique with the voices of other experts blended into sidebars. Pellowe sprinkles in his personal insights and stories (like his home church board meetings!) every few pages—fascinating stuff! Example: His story on page 126 on the “Bad” 3 Rs: boards that waste enormous amounts of time on “Reviewing, Rehashing and Redoing.”

It’s tough to pick just one favorite quotation or paragraph—but this grabbed me:

“You must be diligent as a director. Make sure that you ask any questions that are on your mind. As the saying goes, the only bad question is the one you had, but didn’t ask. You may think that since you have a banker on your board, you do not need to ask any financial questions because someone else is looking after that. It is your duty to ask these questions anyway. Do not rely on someone else to do your thinking.

BOARD DISCUSSION: What does it look like—in the middle of discussing a tough board issue—for us to “think theologically about the mission, governance, and leadership” of our ministry?  

MORE RESOURCES: Check out the “40 Blogs. 40 Wednesdays.” color commentaries on Lessons From the Nonprofit Boardroom, by Dan Busby and John Pearson, including Lesson 39, “Invest ’10 Minutes for Governance’ in Every Board Meeting.” 

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Best Board Books #5 - Owning Up: The 14 Questions Every Board Member Needs to Ask


Here’s a very, very practical book (in my continuing series on best board books)—with serious pokes-in-the-ribs for your board. Guaranteed!


Book #5: Owning Up: The 14 Questions Every Board Member Needs to Ask, by Ram Charan

Governance Guru Ram Charan wrote in 2010, “The financial crisis of 2008 laid bare a long buried truth: that many boards do not really own the strategy of their company.”  So rate your board on a scale of 1 to 5 (5 is high). “How strongly does our board own our strategy?"

That’s just one of 13 other pokes-in-the-ribs from the author of numerous other business and governance books including The Attacker’s Advantage and Boards That Lead.

The author says that “if you have no appetite for risk, you shouldn’t be on a board; it will inhibit the CEO from making bold and necessary moves and potentially company-saving bets.”
The “go-to adviser” for corporate boards and CEOs, Ram Charan, says that boards must “own up” to its accountability for the performance of the organization and reinvent the content of their work and modus operandi.  He preaches, “Governance now means leadership.” 

Board governance often has fuzzy boundaries and is never easy—but this excellent author/authority has 14 cringe-type questions. Charan doesn’t waste words—firing this question onto the board table in the first paragraph of Chapter 1/Question 1, “Is Our Board Composition Right for the Challenge?” 

He writes, “The role of the board has unmistakably transitioned from passive governance to active leadership with a delicate balance of avoiding micromanaging. It’s leadership as a group, not leadership by an appointed person.” He adds, “With the right composition, a board can create value; with the wrong or inappropriate composition, it can easily destroy value.”

He recommends that every board member and board prospect complete a “skill assessment matrix” to assess the board’s overall strengths and weaknesses. “The process is important because a board full of generalists is not good enough anymore,” he warns. Reference checking of board members (well beyond the basic level) is now an absolute necessity. The biggest red flag to avoid: a board nominee with a big ego.

The discussion of board member succession is worth the price of the book. Insights: 1) the process may take up to three years; 2) many CEOs are limiting their service on other boards to just two, or often just their own board; 3) to get the right mix of board members—for rapidly changing needs—many boards are encouraging incumbents to step down early. (Not easy—but critical.) Perhaps most critical: “Board service is always more attractive when the prospective director knows the board has its act together—that the board is thorough in covering its bases and functions well as a group.”

Effective boards will want to use this book at an annual board retreat—or address one or two questions per board meeting over the next year or more.  The book can also be read topically, based on your current hot issues. I started with Question 13, “How Do We Stop From Micromanaging?”  All 14 have zinger qualities to them. My favorites, based on my board consulting work, include:
   • Question 11: How Can Executive Sessions Help the Board Own Up?
   • Question 12: How Can Our Board Self-Evaluation Improve Our Functioning and Our Output?
   • Question 2: Are We Addressing the Risks That Could Send Our Company Over the Cliff?
   • Question 4: Are We Well Prepared to Name Our Next CEO?
   • Question 5: Does Our Board Really Own the Company’s Strategy?

The best practices for the strategy question are both brilliant and practical—but the CEO will need to dramatically increase face time with board members. But the pay-off could be huge. He notes, “Strategy should always be in the back of directors’ minds. It helps to have the strategy brief or a two-page sheet of bullet points in the binder for every meeting.”  

Then Charan cautions us, “If the board and the CEO have lasting substantive differences, they have a choice: stay with the strategy or replace the CEO. Consider that management has a shelf life too, just like the strategy.”

BOARD DISCUSSION: After reviewing Charan’s 14 questions, what is the most important question we need to address at our next meeting? Will answering that question require a spiritual discernment process--or are we just too timid about addressing it?

MORE RESOURCES: Follow the “40 Blogs. 40 Wednesdays.” color commentaries on Lessons From the Nonprofit Boardroom. Click here.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Best Board Books #4: Stewards of a Sacred Trust


Here’s a very helpful book on CEO selection
—as part of my series on “best board books.” But note—read this well in advance before your current CEO retires, resigns, or is terminated.


Book #4: Stewards of a Sacred Trust: CEO Selection, Transition and Development for Boards of Christ-centered Organizations, by David L. McKenna

What makes this book, published by ECFAPress, so timely, practical and readable? Who but an octogenarian can get away with segmenting ministry CEOs into these six descriptive categories?  McKenna says that boards:
   • Love Patriarchs 
   • Admire Prodigies
   • Respect Achievers
   • Tolerate Caretakers
   • Pity Bunglers 
   • and Shun Pariahs. 

The book features informative and accountability-focused checklists at the end of each chapter. Twenty-two chapters. Twenty-two checklists. The lists alone are worth the price of the book.

McKenna ably defines and balances the solemn duty and sacred trust of a board member.  He writes, “Election of the CEO separates Christ-centered organizations from other organizations because it is a sacred trust. While the professional standards for the search process must be the same for all organizations, Christ-centered organizations have a spiritual dimension that cannot be denied. For good reason, ‘cookie cutter consulting’ should be vigorously resisted on presidential search in Christ-centered organizations. Likewise, attempts to spiritualize the process at the expense of professional integrity cannot be tolerated.”

Every board chair and CEO should order and read this book. You may not need it today, but unless your CEO is named Methuselah, you will need it eventually.

BOARD DISCUSSION: Dr. McKenna used six memorable names to label different kinds of CEOs. Do you agree with those categories or have you observed other types? 

BONUS QUESTION: In Ram Charan’s book (watch for my next review), Owning Up: The 14 Questions Every Board Member Needs to Ask, Question #4 asks, “Are we well prepared to name our next CEO?”  So…if our CEO ended up in heaven next week (good news/bad news), is our board prepared?

MORE RESOURCES: Follow the “40 Blogs. 40 Wednesdays.” color commentaries on Lessons From the Nonprofit Boardroom. Click here. And view the four short videos with your board in the latest ECFA Governance Toolbox Series No. 4 on succession planning. Click here.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Best Board Books #3: Best Practices for Effective Boards


Here’s a very helpful Christ-centered governance book—as part of my series on “best board books.”
Pick one that fits your board’s culture and needs.


Book #3: Best Practices for Effective Boards, by E. LeBron Fairbanks, Dwight M. Gunter II, and James R. Cauchenour. Read my review here.

The total years of board leadership and board service for these three co-authors would rival almost any other trio. The best practices have been culled from 1) a lifetime of service as a denominational education commissioner (working with 54 educational institutions in 36 countries), 2) as a board chair and business leader, and 3) as a seasoned pastor/author and board member.

With almost 40 pages covering 11 documents in the appendix, you could skip the book and strike gold in every resource: “Leader Effectiveness Review Grid (22 leadership behaviors),” “Board Standing Policy Manual,” “Rules of the Road for Christlike Conflict Management,” and a “Board Survey” with 22 questions.

Can a book that articulates Christ-centered character standards for board members also meet the high bar of governance excellence? Yes! The guts of the book, 12 chapters, include helpful discussions on:
   • “Ears In, Fingers Out” (great shorthand for the board role)
   • “Take Time” (slowing decision-making down to hear from God)
   • “Yes! to Missional Change” (choose your battles wisely)
   • “Role Models of Generosity and Stewardship” (why board members must set the pace in generous giving and inspiring others to give)

In his chapter, “Yes! to Missional Change,” Pastor Dwight Gunter asks “How many Christians does it take to change a light bulb?” His answer: “Seven. One to change the bulb and six to resist the change.” (Insert “How many board members…” and it’s just as funny.)

Co-author LeBron Fairbanks, founding director of BoardServe which serves as a global intervention and coaching resource for boards, shares my favorite quotation in the book—this from a CPA firm: 
“In the long run, only integrity matters.
In fact, without integrity, there will be no long run.”

BOARD DISCUSSION: What is the next book our board should read? What is the next book our staff should read—a book that would help them clear up many of the myths and misunderstandings about the board’s role versus the staff’s role?

MORE RESOURCES: Follow the “40 Blogs. 40 Wednesdays.” color commentaries on Lessons From the Nonprofit Boardroom. Click here.