Monday, January 19, 2015

What If…Every Board Member Wrote 5 Thank You Notes?

On a coaching call with a leader recently, he astounded me with his teachable spirit—and his pedal-to-the-metal approach to my recommendations.

I had suggested he read the powerful and convicting book, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There: Discover the 20 Workplace Habits You Need to Break, by Marshall Goldsmith with Mark Reiter. 

He’s reading it! But…he stopped on page 159. “Why?” I asked.

He responded, “because the author suggests we think about the people who are most responsible for our success.” Then the author adds, ‘Write down the first 25 names that come to mind.’ And then ask, ‘Have I ever told them how grateful I am for their help?’”

The author’s command: Before turning the page and reading the next chapter, start writing those 25 thank you notes!

I was on the phone with this leader, but if I’d been in the same office with him, I would have whipped out a Starbucks gift card—with warm affirmation for his heart and his actions. And just imagine—the heartfelt response he’ll receive in the days ahead from the 25 people who receive those notes.

I know you know what’s coming next!

At your next board meeting, bring notecards, envelopes and stamps—and ask every board member to write five or more thank you notes—on the spot—to the people that are responsible for the success of your ministry. (Your CEO can have names and addresses ready, if needed.) Who are the people that should be thanked?
   • Former board members
   • Former CEOs and staff
   • Donors (both major donors and faithful month-every-month donors)
   • Volunteers
   • Your friends in the media
   • Government officials who care about your work
   • Pastors and supporting churches
   • Who else?

Goldsmith adds, “This isn’t just an exercise in making yourself and other people feel good (although that’s a worthwhile therapeutic). Writing a thank you note forces you to confront the humbling fact that you have not achieved your success alone. You had help along the way.”

Richard Kriegbaum writes in Leadership Prayers that “the board of the organization is not just the ultimate legal entity; it is also the ultimate means of God’s grace and blessing on the organization.” And I would add, when the board, in turn, blesses your organization’s stakeholders, it will have profound meaning and Kingdom impact!

QUESTION: Is expressing gratitude and appreciation part of your board’s culture? Would this exercise help or enhance that heart?

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Forget the Plaques!


It’s time to honor your board chair who is stepping down after weathering six years at the head of the table. What gift will you give him or her?

   • A plaque
   • A Starbucks gift card
   • Flowers
   • All of the above
   • None of the above

I have a new idea!  

This week I enjoyed lunch with a fellow board member. I had never been to his office, and so I arrived early to get a tour of the architectural firm he founded. I love visiting the interesting offices of executives. The tour is often an insight into a leader’s values, passions and soul. This was no exception.

When we arrived in Tom’s own office, he pointed to a stunning commemorative salute to his six years as board chair of an international ministry, JAARS, the center of training and support operation for Wycliffe Bible Translators

Beautifully framed with exquisite calligraphy, the large testimonial to God’s faithfulness listed over 125 people groups, in five regions around the world, who had received God’s Word in their own language. At the bottom of this Kingdom artwork was this memorable statement:


“During the years that Tom Matlock served as chair of the JAARS Board,
these New Testaments were completed around the world.
Thank you, Tom and Judi. May God bless you!"

Forget the plaques, gift cards and the gold watches. The best acknowledgement of a board chair’s work is to salute the Kingdom work that resulted from his or her faithful stewardship of the ministry.   

It’s been several years since Tom termed off the JAARS board, but he still got teary-eyed as he pointed to that wall and told me stories of God’s faithfulness. (Me, too.)

QUESTION: When you honor your next departing board member or board chair, how will you meaningfully connect the dots between faithfulness and Kingdom impact?

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Quick Fix Tools for Board Self-Assessments


At least once a year, the best boards conduct a board member self-assessment exercise. Yet some boards delay the process until they have engineered the perfect assessment tool. Bad idea!


Peter Drucker wrote, “Self-assessment is the first action requirement of leadership: the constant resharpening, constant refocusing, never really being satisfied.”

Jim Collins also chimes in: “To throw your hands up and say, ‘But we cannot measure performance in the social sectors the way you can in a business,’ is simply lack of discipline. All indicators are flawed, whether qualitative or quantitative.” (Read more in his 35-page gem, Good to Great and the Social Sectors: A Monograph to Accompany Good to Great.)

Whether your self-assessment takes five minutes or 50 minutes—anything is better than nothing. So here are some quick fix tools and ideas:

Five Minutes.  At your next board meeting, ask each board member to rate their annual performance on a scale of one to five (5 = excellent); and share their rating (and why) with a 30-second comment.  (Some do this at every meeting—see the blog, “Fast Feedback Tool” and “We All Need Feedback.”)

Five Tools. Pick one:

1) BoardSource has several options for board self-evaluations and board self-assessments.

2) Ram Charan’s latest book, Boards That Lead: When to Take Charge, When to Partner, and When to Stay Out of the Way, by Ram Charan, Dennis Carey and Michael Useem, has excellent questions for board self-evaluation. Customize these questions for your unique use.

3) Use the one-page Self-Assessment in the ECFA 3rd Annual Nonprofit Governance Survey (62 pages) published in 2014 by ECFA. You can download a PDF here.

4) Customize the annual ECFA governance survey for your own use and benchmark your responses against the average responses of other ECFA-accredited organizations. 

5) Adapt the 20 board self-assessment questions from the book, Ten Basic Responsibilities of Nonprofit Boards (Second Edition), by Richard T. Ingram (90 pages, BoardSource, 2008). 

The first title of six in BoardSource’s “Governance Series” delivers the generally agreed-upon list of the 10 roles and responsibilities of nonprofit board members. (Christ-centered boards will likely add one or two more.) The book includes an excellent 20-point self-assessment for board members, with probing questions like:
   • “Are there ways in which your talents and interests can be more fully realized at or between board or committee meetings?”
   • “Have you and the board taken steps to deal with real or apparent conflicts of interest in your board service?”
   • “Which aspect of your service on the board has been the least satisfying and enjoyable?”

Click here for a link to four governance books (including the one above) I reviewed in 2014. Again—the goal is not to create the perfect tool. The goal is to improve our board stewardship of the ministries God has entrusted to our oversight.

God is faithful and He will give you grace and courage as you trust Him. May God bless you in 2015!

QUESTION: How will you inspire your board members to measure and monitor their own effectiveness in 2015?

Friday, December 26, 2014

A Bigger Idea Than “Starbucks for Life!”


Your favorite coffee stop has a big idea this holiday season: “Starbucks for Life!”

Just go online and enter the code from your Starbucks receipt and you’ll be entered in the promotion to win Starbucks for life. (Or as the company defines life: “Starbucks for life means one free food or beverage item per day for 30 years.”) 

Maybe if you drink coffee for almost 11,000 days straight, it will do you in after 30 years?

So what does all that caffeine have to do with the governance of Christ-centered organizations?

The coffee promotion (a pretty big idea) got my attention. And then I wondered,
“What might be some of the truly
God-inspired big ideas coming in 2015?”


One of the classic governance roles of boards, according to BoardSource, is to “ensure effective planning.” (Read the Ten Basic Responsibilities of Nonprofit Boards, by Richard T. Ingram). Board members in 2015 will either add value or diminish value as they discern future priorities.

For some boards, it will be business as usual. Cross the “t’s” and dot the “i’s” and operate without faith goals.

Perhaps you’re on a board that’s worked very hard in 2014—and you’re tired. You just need a quiet, uneventful year—maybe focused on faithfulness and obedience versus human-size big ideas. That may be entirely appropriate.

A few boards, however, will pray for attentiveness to God’s voice and, with hands open, will embrace both big and small ideas from our Holy God. Imagine…the privilege of discerning God’s voice and following His plan! (And funding often follows when we follow His plan.)

We already know God’s biggest idea (which leaves Starbucks in the dust): eternity! And that unimaginable gift of Grace doesn’t expire in 30 years. Wow.


QUESTION: How will you help your board discern God’s voice for 2015? Are you chasing after Big Hairy Audacious Goals or Big HOLY Audacious Goals?

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Gen. McChrystal: “Go White-water Rafting With Your Board”


Effectiveness in the boardroom was addressed in The Wall Street Journal’s annual meeting of the CEO Council (100 CEOs of large companies). The insights were summarized in the paper’s December 9, 2014 special section, “CEO Council.”


In a sidebar Q&A with the WSJ and Retired General Stanley McChrystal, former commander of U.S. and international forces in Afghanistan, we learn this:

WSJ: “If you had the president and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in a room, what would you advise them from a leadership standpoint on what to do now in Afghanistan?”

GEN. McCHRYSTAL: “I’d tell them to go get three cases of beer and go white-water rafting. It sounds like a joke, but when you get in the National Security Council room for the first time you think, ‘Boy, I made it. I’m in this room. This is kind of amazing.’

“And you look around and you’re not really a team. You’re polite to each other, and you talk. But think about it. We’re fighting a war. You spend months preparing a football or a baseball team for the season, but we take the most senior leaders, we put them in a room, we expect them to be a cohesive team to make tough decisions.

“And so, I would do things that started to build relationships so that you have something to fall back on when you disagree on the issues.

“I see the same thing in boardrooms for corporations. If they come in periodically, they don’t really know each other, they’re not cohesive; you’re not apt to get a very effective outcome. And I think that’s huge. 

“The strategic part is not that hard. Figuring out what to do, you can do that on a Saturday morning.”

Well said! Jeffrey A. Sonnenfeld had similar advice in his Harvard Business Review article, “What Makes Great Boards Great.” (Read my review here.)

Or…take a page from the New York Times bestseller, The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. George Yeoman Pocock, the master craftsman and leading designer and builder of racing shells in the 20th Century, advised a young man from the University of Washington rowing team:

“If you don’t like some fellow in the boat, Joe, you have to learn to like him. It has to matter to you whether he wins the race, not just whether you do.”

Depending on your organization’s doctrine and lifestyle statements, you could skip the General’s beverage recommendations, but the white-water rafting idea has merit. And for Christ-centered boards, I would build in a spiritual discernment component and ways to leverage the spiritual gifts of your board members. That will dramatically enhance relationships and boardroom dynamics.

Do you want Kingdom outcomes? Build cohesiveness. 

QUESTIONS: Are the relationships between your board members strong enough so when you disagree on the issues…you can do it in a Christ-honoring way? If not, is it time to get in the boat (or raft) together?

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The Only Bad Question Is the One You Had, But Didn’t Ask

Here’s savvy advice for new board members (actually all board members): “Do not rely on someone else to do your thinking.”

That’s from the very helpful book by John Pellowe, CEO of the Canadian Council of Christian Charities. Serving as a Board Member: Practical Guidance for Directors of Christian Ministries, based on a seminar and a DVD of the same title, the book is one of the best Christ-centered governance books available.

As you think about your next board retreat—and a book for every board member to read, consider this one.

In his foreword to Serving as a Board Member, Jim Brown, author of The Imperfect Board Member, notes “now it seems like ‘governance consultant’ is a pre-painted shingle that goes with every early-retirement, golden parachute check that gets handed out. The web is fraught with blogs and e-books on the topics of boards.”

So…pick your books carefully. Why this one? 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.”

And he’s just warming up on pages 4 and 5! He adds on page 7, “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, CEO of CCCC since 2003, 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.”

This paragraph grabbed me—and is illustrative of Pellowe’s insights in every chapter:

“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.”

QUESTIONS: When is the last time every board member read a helpful governance book? What’s the next book your board should read?

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

“We Don’t Eliminate—We Help Our Competition”


“We do not try to eliminate our competition. In contrast we try to help other Christ-centered organizations.”


That’s just one of exactly 1,300 comments received in the recent ECFA governance survey in response to this question: “If you agree that there are important distinctives of Christ-centered governance, please list one or two.”

CEOs, board chairs and board members shared their insights:

• “We interpret current information with the question, ‘What is God doing?’"
• “Decisions and discussions need to be within the context of seeking God's agenda as opposed to merely bottom line or goal-oriented thinking, decisions.”
• “Prayer—constant and continuing, both in and outside board meetings. Our board prays together for a half-hour via telephone each Tuesday morning.”

The perspectives were diverse—and prayer and spiritual discernment was a common theme:

• “Christ-centered boards are required to take certain steps of faith, whereas secular boards tend to be driving solely by numbers.”
• "Prayer: our board bathes the meetings, the staff, our plans, and decisions in prayer.  I've never served on a secular board that used prayer in this manner.”
• "We exist for primarily spiritual values.”
• “Living out those values is critical to being a board member."
• “Biblical conflict resolution (commitment to Matthew 18)”
• “The board members spend time in prayer on difficult issues.”
• “The board references scripture to address many issues.”
•  “Devoting significant time—maybe 25%—to hearing a [devotional challenge], personal checking in and prayer, before diving into agenda."
"Scheduled interruptions for prayer.”

Several board members pushed back a bit:

• “I think if the individual members are Christ-centered there isn't much difference.” 
• “While I disagree with that statement, my experience tells me that a Christ-centered board obviously has Christ at the center of the mission and the standard for conduct is based on scripture truths, but a secular board also has the adherence to fiduciaries of honesty, efficiency and performance that mandate effectiveness.”

To get the flavor of all 35 comments (out of 1,300) featured in the 62-page executive summary of the survey (pages 6 to 8), download the ECFA 3rd Annual Nonprofit Governance Survey (click here).  More insights:  

• “There is a missiological context for a Christian organization. How the Trinity achieves its goals and mission directly relates to how we do the same. How God does His mission matters in how we do ours.”
• "Always mindful of what Christ wants through prayer and fasting.”
• “We measure success by biblical standards."
• "We don't have to be sensitive to political correctness. We are obligated to be Biblically-sensitive and honoring."

And my favorite:
“We use the Bible
as a plumb line, 
and value gracious ‘other-centered’ 
relationships at meetings”

QUESTION: At your next board meeting, ask your board members to first write down their response to this question: “Are there important distinctives between how a ‘secular’ board governs and how a ‘Christ-centered’ board governs? Then, ask board members to share what they wrote with the full board.