Friday, July 5, 2013

The 6 D's: Discerning Decision-Maker

Let's say you have four new board member prospects. What criteria do you use to differentiate the good ones from the best ones? How do you ensure you'll welcome board candidates who truly honor God?

I recommend "The 6 D's” criteria as described in the ECFA Governance Toolbox Series No. 1: Recruiting Board Members.  Here's the first D:

No. 1. Discerning Decision-Maker
Prior experience in making wise policy, financial, strategy and personnel decisions. (Is this nominee competent in both hiring and firing situations?)

Of the three board hats, Governance, Volunteer and Participant (see the ECFA Governance Toolbox Series No. 2: Balancing Board Roles), the Governance hat is the most critical.

Look over your board decisions for the last 24 months, and then ask your board prospects to discuss their level of experience and expertise with those board issues.  Future decisions will likely involve:

  • Financial Competencies. Will she ask probing questions about the monthly or quarterly financial statements—and understand them? Is she knowledgeable about the nuances of nonprofit accounting?
  • Tolerance for Risk. Does he expect money in the bank before a new program or building campaign is launched? Any experience in balancing trust in God with cash flow realities? Does his view mesh with your culture and your theology?
  • Cash Cows and Sacred Cows.  Is your board prospect gutsy enough to pull the plug on a sacred cow—a program that should have been eliminated years ago?  Does he understand nonprofit sustainability—and the role of “cash cows” or “money trees” that often subsidize higher priority programs?
  • Transparency and Accountability.  Has she ever raised a ruckus, when serving on another board, when the CEO, CFO or executive committee was being less than transparent with money, politics and/or playing favorites? Would she be comfortable addressing lackluster results or the absence of CEO annual goals?
  • Strategic Thinking.  Ram Charan (one of my favorite board gurus) asks, “Does the board own the strategy?”  Ask your prospect to describe their experience with strategy and strategic planning. (For more, read my review of the Harvard Business Review classic, “What Is Strategy?”)

You get the idea.  Board service is not for the weak-hearted.  But when you find the right board member—called by God to serve on your board—the Kingdom impact can be stunning!

In the theological-poke-in-the-ribs book, Pursuing God's Will Together: A Discernment Practice for Leadership Groups, Ruth Haley Barton suggests that every board designate one person as the “discernmentarian”-- someone who reminds the board that God's work requires more than decision-making.  She says that while most of us want to do the will of God, few of us are willing to invest the time to learn, practice and facilitate a spiritual discernment process. 
Decision-making, without discernment, 
is an unhealthy shortcut. 

So ask your board candidate:

  • How do you discern God's voice in your own life? Give us some recent examples.
  • Share how as part of a board, a team, or a small group, you have discerned God's will together—through a spiritual discernment process.

What's the downside of going slow on board recruitment until you have the right people? Not much. What's the upside of finding God's choices for your board? Kingdom impact!

QUESTION: What are 10 questions we should be asking our board prospects?

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