Thursday, April 23, 2015

Chopsticks and Fulcrums: The Board Chair/CEO Relationship

“The board chair-CEO relationship is like a pair of chopsticks,” writes Michael Naufal. “One is much more effective with the support of the other.”

Mary Hiland writing in the Journal for Nonprofit Management says that “board chairs and executive directors comprise the key leadership fulcrum of nonprofit organizations.”

So…here’s today’s $64,000 question: “How much time have these two key people in your ministry invested in enriching this critical relationship?” Have you read a book or article together, attended a governance workshop together, or consulted with other board chair/CEO dynamic duos?

My friend and mentor, George Duff, served 27 years as the president of the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce. He adjusted to a different board chair every year: 27 in all! His wisdom saved me!  I noticed, for example, that one year my analytical board chair would circle all the typos in the board reports. The next year, my expressive board chair would show up unprepared (no advance reading). I quickly became a student of the four social styles and learned how to leverage the ample gifts and strengths of all my board chairs (each uniquely gifted by God).

One time I observed a boardroom discussion between the CEO and his board when the CEO reported that every time the members elected a new board chair—the CEO’s time crunch worsened. He estimated it required at least 10 percent of his time each year to brief a new board chair—and learn the new chair’s leadership style.

The point today: if ministry effectiveness really does hang on a healthy relationship between the board chair and the CEO (however you label it: chopsticks or fulcrums)—it demands a serious investment of time, prayer and focus. Resources are ample at ECFA, BoardSource, Amazon and Google. (Or check out my Board Bucket page.) Plus, read Rebekah Basinger's blog, Generous Matters. She pointed out the chopsticks and fulcrums references for me.

David McKenna has a Kingdom description for this important partnership. “The board-CEO relationship is the soul of the Christ-centered organization. It connects leaders to followers, communicates vision and mission to the body, and sets the tone for the organization.” (Read more in the ECFAPress book, Stewards of a Sacred Trust: CEO Selection, Transition and Development for Boards of Christ-centered Organizations, by David L. McKenna. By the way, McKenna was the first blogger for this column from January to May 2011 and his blogs are packed with insights.)

QUESTION: How much time are your board chair and CEO investing in supporting each other’s unique but complementary roles—and communicating those roles to the board and the staff?

Monday, April 13, 2015

There’s an Elephant in the Room—But Let’s Just Keep the Peace!

“There’s an Elephant in the Room—But Let’s Just Keep the Peace!” is the title of the “In-the-Trenches Board Interviews” segment in the new resource:

ECFA Governance Toolbox Series No. 3:

Addressing Board and Organizational Conflicts of Interest—Avoiding Trouble, Trouble, Trouble With Related–Party Transactions.

(Click here for more information.)

This 16-minute informative and entertaining DVD and the Board Member Read-and-Engage Viewing Guide addresses three critical questions about conflicts of interest and related-party transactions. The 20-page viewing guide (12 per toolbox) includes a board self-assessment tool for each question—a perfect resource for your next board meeting.

The DVD highlights how four board members address conflicts of interest and related-party transactions:

“Any surprises today? Not really. Well…not a surprise since Patricia’s pesky question was somewhat predictable. (That’s Patricia for you!) I mean…she absolutely messed up the really sweet spirit of our meeting by asking about the Brown Company contract. That wasn’t cool. No one knows that I’m an investor in that company—so I really couldn’t say anything.”

“Well…we finally, finally had an executive session (without any staff members in the room). It was long overdue for someone to ask about the Brown Company contract. I mean…Joe Brown’s wife is on the board—and they ARE generous—but it appears we have never received competitive bids. I had to have a hallway conversation with the CFO—just to get to the bottom of this.”

“I’d say one of our board’s best practices is keeping the peace. We are very mature about this. The Lord doesn’t want us to major on the minors. After all, boards can’t obsess on dotting every ‘i’ and crossing every ‘t.’ That just annoys board members and often causes hurt feelings. Policies should never trump relationships. That’s just not biblical!”

“Well…it’s my understanding that all board members must sign a ‘Conflicts of Interest’ statement every January. I’ve never signed it! Do I have any conflicts of interest? I don’t think so…but…how would you define a ‘Conflict of Interest?’”

Too often in the boardroom, conflicts of interest are either not addressed or relegated to the back burner due to more pressing concerns. Neither approach will enhance your ministry’s reputation. That’s why ECFA urges you to view this video at your next board meeting—and elevate this subject in order to elevate trust and integrity with your givers and the public. (Click here for more information.)

Is it worth the investment of time? John Wesley said,
“I judge all things only by the price 
they shall gain in eternity.”

QUESTION: When is the last time you’ve had an open and transparent discussion about board and staff conflicts of interest—and the perception of conflicts of interest? 

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

A Dynamite Idea for Your Next Board Retreat

At your next board retreat, here’s a value-added exercise to engage every board member.

STEP 1. Three to four weeks before your board retreat, give every board member a copy of ECFA President Dan Busby’s new book, Trust: The Firm Foundation for Kingdom Fruitfulness. (Read my review on Amazon.)

Busby enriches our understanding of trust in four major areas—with a simple, but powerful premise:
“Christ-centered ministries with Trusted Governance,
Trusted Resource-raising,
and Trusted Resource Management
experience elevated Kingdom outcomes.”

Who sets the tone at the top for trust in your ministry? How is your ministry perceived by donors, volunteers, the media, and the public? Busby notes, “We ignore perceptions at our peril.” In his chapter on “Perceptions,” he includes a list of ten major issues that can lead to misperceptions (compensation, fringe benefits, intellectual properties, family members paid by the ministry, related-party transactions, and five more).

STEP 2. Assign relevant chapters to each board member—and ask each person to prepare a four-minute chapter review. (The book has 21 short chapters, plus a meaty introduction.)

Trust features more than 100 memorable quotations, including:
   • “A Christ-centered ministry that lacks trust is like a teenager running through a fireworks factory with a lit blowtorch.  It isn’t whether something is going to blow up—it’s just a matter of when.” (Busby)
   • “Trust is the starting point for all healthy relationships, the fuel for team ministry, and the cornerstone of group effectiveness.” (Stephen Macchia)  

STEP 3. At the beginning or end of each hour of your retreat, spotlight one board member and his or her four-minute review. (Mandatory! Set the four-minute alarm on your iPhone—and, perhaps, award a Starbucks card for stopping before the bell.)

Imagine the engagement! After your board members have prepared their four-minute presentations—they will have already invested, perhaps, their most serious thought ever on the Kingdom linkage between “trust” and fruitfulness.

STEP 4. Following each chapter review, if you have time, allocate two to three minutes for Q&A and feedback. (Trust me. The content in Trust will energize the dialogue.)  For example, in “low-trust” organizations, Busby warns that you’ll find:
   • Internal dissension. “Without trust, the office dissension machine runs at full speed—and divides a ministry against itself.”
   • Disengagement.  Staff work in silos and “they shift from joyful service to turf protection.”
   • Turnover. “When trust is low, turnover is disproportionately high—ministries lose the people they least want to lose.”
   • Fraud. “Low trust encourages a small theft; if they don’t get caught, they may take it to the next level.”

There’s much, much more, so read the book.

STEP 5. Before you adjourn the retreat, ask for next step recommendations. (The study guide on pages 201-204 outlines possible next steps.)

If you don’t have a board retreat scheduled in the next three to six months, you can still spotlight several chapters at future board meetings. I urge you and your board to read Trust. The chapter, “Christ-Centered,” lists five ways boards exhibit a lack of harmony including, “When problem-makers outnumber problem-solvers.”

Busby adds, “Trusted governance starts with spiritual leaders who deeply know God, seek to find God’s will, and delight to obey God.”

QUESTION: Max De Pree, a former seminary board chair said, “When things go awry, trust powers the generators until the problem is fixed.” Does your board have adequate trust to fix big problems?