Friday, December 28, 2012

Enabling Dysfunctional Boards

The well-worn axiom, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” might be an appropriate poster to hang in your boardroom.

When a board member—or an entire board—tilts toward dysfunction, it is the rare board that will address the issue promptly and appropriately.  In most cases (in my experience), boards tend to overlook, ignore, or hope-and-pray that the dysfunction disappears.

   • “His term is up in a year. Maybe he’ll miss a few meetings and then we won’t re-elect him to another term.”
   • “Don’t say anything. She’s a major donor.”
   • “I know everyone is talking in the hallways, but let’s not ruffle any feathers.”

And so it goes.
David Curry, CEO of The Rescue Mission (an ECFA-accredited organization) says that behind every addict is an enabler. (Read the review of his recent book, First Aid for Enablers.) Curry defines it this way: “Enabling is any behavior that removes or softens the consequences of addiction, thereby making it easier for the addict to continue to use drugs.”

In thinking about Christ-centered governance, maybe we could define it this way: “Enabling is any behavior by another board member, or the full board, that removes or softens the consequences of board dysfunction.”

Confronting dysfunction takes wisdom, grace and guts.  For many boards, bad behavior could be addressed with a simple end-of-meeting evaluation checklist. (Examples: Did I conduct myself with God-honoring character and comments? Did all other board members? Did we micro-manage?)

Good boards conduct an annual self-evaluation (often in January) to assess both individual and full board performance on agreed-upon-in-advance standards, protocol and goals.  The best boards then take it a step further—a frank in-the-room conversation with all board members. How can we improve? Are all of us having maximum impact?
Here’s another question to ask. In the chapter, “How Can Our Board Self-Evaluation Improve Our Function and Our Output?” (Owning Up: The 14 Questions Every Board Needs to Ask, by Ram Charan), the author asks, “What would you say are the one or two things your board did that really made a difference for the [organization]?”

Dysfunctional boards, or board members, torpedo any opportunity for governance to be Christ-centered—and for the ministry to be effective with Kingdom opportunities.

QUESTIONS: When will you discuss your next board member self-evaluation process? What are three or four key questions that all Christ-centered board members should ask themselves in the annual self-evaluation?

Friday, December 21, 2012

Board Service: “Easy when…”


I am what some call a “raving fan” of a small nonprofit ministry. So when—out of the blue—a board member called me, I was all ears. What’s up?

We had never met until her phone call this week. She lives in Minnesota and shovels snow. I live in California and don’t. Not much in common except our passion for this life-changing ministry.

“I’m just calling to say thanks to you and Joanne for your faithful support of our ministry,” she smiled. (I know. It was a phone call. I couldn’t see her smile, but I could feel it.) Her warmth was genuine. She was spiritually dialed into this ministry. And she had done her homework on me.  She also connected me to a humorous photo I had emailed to the CEO. We both laughed.

After the short, but deeply appreciated conversation, I simply said, “Thank you. And thank you for being an active and engaged board member.”

“Oh…it’s easy being a board member!” she bubbled. “It’s easy…when you believe in the cause!”

In the ECFA 2012 Governance Survey, CEOs were asked, “What is your board’s single greatest need?” Twenty-five percent (the largest single response) of the 255 CEOs of ECFA-accredited ministries who answered the question mentioned the challenge of inspiring board members to give and/or help with fundraising.

What’s the problem? “It’s easy when you believe in the cause!”

QUESTION: Before you invite prospects to join your board, what process do you use to spiritually discern if they have passion for your cause?

Friday, December 14, 2012

Cajoled Onto the Board


“The Shortest Board Term in the History of the World” is the humorous, but poignant, in-the-trenches board story in the new ECFA Governance Toolbox Series No. 1: Recruiting Board Members.

The true story (names have been changed to protect the guilty) describes how a ministry fast-tracked a highly qualified person onto the board—but after one board meeting, the disillusioned board member quit.

The point: “dating a board prospect” takes time.  To find God’s person for our board, we must pray diligently, seek counsel, check references, and meet several times—always providing adequate time for Q&A (both ways).

Both the board prospect and the nominating committee must spiritually discern God’s direction. Will this person fit our culture? Will she add value? Is his family supportive of the high commitment to time, talent and treasure? Is she on too many boards already?

I was thinking about this recently when a highly qualified and experienced board member told me he had just turned down a board opportunity. He discerned—after much prayer and reflection—that he did not have sufficient passion for the ministry to assume the spiritual, stewardship and fiduciary responsibilities as an effective board member.

At first, I was disappointed to learn of his decision. From my perspective, he would have been an outstanding board member. Yet, he knew—deep in his heart—that someone with much greater passion for the ministry should accept this board position.

Ruth Haley Barton’s amazing book, Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership, quotes Danny Morris and Charles Olsen, who write, “God’s will is the best thing that could happen to us under any circumstances.”

Amen. So (gulp) it’s OK to rejoice when God-honoring board prospects say no.  It could be worse—they could be cajoled onto your board only to become another nominee for the “Shortest Board Term in the History of the World.”

QUESTION: How does your nominating committee measure a board prospect’s passion for your ministry?

Monday, December 10, 2012

A Prayer for Competence

In my nonprofit ministry CEO years, I had the privilege of serving almost 20 board chairs. I discovered that when board members prayed and discerned God’s direction, the board chair they selected was frequently the right person at the right time—for the unique season of ministry that confronted the organization.

Recently, one of those board chairs (a stellar and God-honoring leader) emailed me with a very unique prayer request.  He recently re-joined an association board (not faith-based)—and the stakes are high.

His email ended with, “Need prayer to be competent and a witness.”

Wow! I cannot recall ever praying for competency. I’ve never asked anyone to pray that I be competent. Until last week, no one had ever asked me to pray that they be competent.

What would happen in our boardrooms if we stopped micro-managing the silly stuff—and got on our knees for the strategic stuff?

“Lord, we want to be competent as stewards of your work.”

Richard Kriegbaum’s wonderful little book, Leadership Prayers, includes a prayer for wisdom. He prays (in part): “If I were brilliant, if I had the knowledge and strengths that I admire in so many other people, if I were a spiritual giant, I would simply ask you to help me do my best. But my best is not good enough. I do not know enough, and I cannot see clearly enough. I am your child, and I want to learn, but unless your Spirit teaches me, I have little to offer. I need your wisdom.”

QUESTION: As a board member, what is your prayer?