Monday, November 13, 2017

Board Member Giving Commitments That Stick


Most boards have the expectation that every board member be a “donor of record” to the organization every year. Fewer boards have learned how to spiritually inspire all board members to be generous givers. (I’ll define “generous” in this blog.)


So during a coaching session with a ministry’s governance committee recently, a board member shared how he reminds himself—every day—about his giving commitment.

In my last blog, “7 Ways to Address Absentee Board Member Syndrome,” I mentioned a helpful template, the “Board Member Annual Affirmation Statement,” which details a board member’s roles and responsibilities for the three board hats: governance, volunteer, and (event) participant. The template also communicates the board’s expectation (and preferably its written policy) on board member giving—and that expectation is communicated and affirmed by board prospects during the “dating” phase of recruitment. 

In the ECFA Governance Toolbox Series No. 1: Recruiting Board Members, the materials note that “board nominees must meet our 6 Ds criteria” which include: Discerning Decision-Maker, Demonstrated Passion, Documented Team Player, Diligent and Faithful Participant, Doer (walks the talk!), and Donor. Here’s the Donor detail:

DONOR: Because Jesus said in Matthew 6:21, ‘Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also,’ this nominee is already a generous giver to our ministry. (Note: Many organizations define ‘generous’ as prioritizing your organization in the Top-3 of a person’s annual giving. Board members at all income levels can be generous.)”

So with that commitment—to be a generous giver to the ministry—here’s what this board member told us: “I taped that commitment form to the wall—right by my desk at work. It reminds me every day about my annual giving commitment.” Brilliant!

For more resources on inspiring board members to be generous givers, read “The Role of the Board in Development” (chapter 3) in Development 101: Building a Comprehensive Development Program on Biblical Values, by John R. Frank and R. Scott Rodin. That chapter lists four keys and four cautions to help board members be successful development partners.

BOARDROOM DISCUSSION: If we truly believe that “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also,” then why would we not seek to inspire every board member to prioritize their giving so our organization is in their Top-3 each year? And…if we concur, how will we make this expectation clear to prospects and nominees to our board? 

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

7 Ways to Address Absentee Board Member Syndrome

Which statement below best characterizes your board’s response to absentee board members?

HO HUM. Certain board members frequently miss board meetings, but there is no board policy addressing absenteeism, so nothing is said.

HINT. When board members miss a meeting, the board chair (or CEO) gently “hints” that their participation was missed, but nothing further is said. Expectations on board meeting attendance are not clear and are not in writing.

HARASS. If there is a written policy, one willing soul on the board agrees to remind the absentee board member of the policy (usually with a strongly-worded email), but there is no follow-through or personal meeting with the person. 

Maybe your board responds more appropriately. If not, here’s my list of seven ways to address Absentee Board Member Syndrome:

1) Reference Checks. Recruit board members who have a track record of excellent board meeting attendance. Just as you expect your CEO to check references when hiring staff, so the board must check references of board nominees. How faithful was this person when serving on other boards?

2) Board Member Annual Affirmation Statement. Leverage a re-commitment time each year with an annual affirmation statement (download the template from the ECFA Governance Toolbox Series No. 1 and/or No. 2). That form should list board meeting dates and locations for the next 12 to 18 months—and annually give board members the option of exiting off the board if their schedules don’t align with the board’s schedule. (Or, change the board meeting schedule to accommodate all board members.)

3) Engage the Board With an Engaging Agenda. Sometimes (let’s be honest!), board members skip meetings because they are not needed. The CEO and staff do all the talking. Next steps are all buttoned down. There’s no room for generative thinking by the board. No heavy lifting. What’s the point of participating? This is easy to fix by engaging the board.

4) Establish a Written Policy on Board Meeting Attendance Requirements. If you have a Board Policies Manual, include board member attendance policies—and review them at least annually. Some boards have an automatic exit plan for board members who miss X meetings in any rolling 12-month period. 

5) Emphasize Calling Over Rule-Keeping. Al Newell, founder of High Impact Volunteer Ministry Development, writes: “Sustaining motivation is better understood as a by-product as opposed to a goal of itself. It is my experience that if you pursue discipleship with volunteers [and board members], motivation will follow. If volunteers see the fulfillment of their role as ‘obeying and serving God’ rather than serving you or your organization, it will cause motivation to swell.”

6) Affirm. Affirm. Affirm. Take time to creatively affirm board members for their participation and their contribution as stewards of your ministry. Board discipline (news flash!) is the board’s responsibility—not the CEO’s responsibility. Ditto affirmation. When board colleagues affirm each other, then engagement will heighten and board service satisfaction will soar.

7) Address Issues Early. Don’t wait for the fifth missed meeting. Create the expectation that your board chair (and perhaps one other board member) will meet personally (if at all possible) with policy offenders. No one should be surprised that absenteeism will be addressed frequently and in a God-honoring way. Pray for a discerning spirit to know when you must show grace—and when you must show someone the door.*

*Note: Watch for the new book next month, Lessons From the Nonprofit Boardroom, by Dan Busby and John Pearson, and read “Lesson 31: Cut the Cord! Invite Board Members to Exit When They Don’t Live Your Values.”

BOARDROOM DISCUSSION: What person, or committee, is responsible for addressing absentee board members? What’s our current approach to missed meetings: Ho Hum, Hint, or Harass?

Monday, October 9, 2017

Called to Serve: No Board Detail Is Too Small (Index to 30 Blogs)


Finally! 
This is the final post, No. 30, in a series of blogs featuring wisdom from the 91-page gem by Max De Pree, Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board. (Watch for my new theme next week.)

Max De Pree: “…my experience has convinced me that no detail is too small to consider carefully when it comes to thinking about the important work of nonprofit boards and the people who serve on them.”

Perhaps, if you’re read a few of my color commentaries on this exquisite book, you may have wondered why I ended up in the weeds (the excruciatingly mundane details) so often. Blame Max De Pree: “…no detail is too small to consider carefully…”

But it’s time to wrap this up. I’ve enjoyed writing these 30 blogs and I trust they have inspired you to read Called to Serve—and you have inspired other board members, CEOs, and senior team members to also read the book.

Poignantly, during this series, Max De Pree was blessed with his heavenly reward. See No. 24, “Called to Serve: Max’s Most Memorable Message (1924–2017).”

Below are the titles and links to all 30 posts. It was challenging to pick my favorite topic, but maybe it was No. 14, “There Are No Committee Statues!” What was your favorite—or most helpful insight from Max De Pree?

1. Introduction: What Will You Measure in 2017?

2. Called to Serve: Violence and Committee Meetings!

3. Called to Serve: Loyalty Is Never Sufficient

4. Called to Serve: Challenged With Measurable Work

5. Called to Serve: How to “Table” a Thank You

6. Called to Serve: Governance Through the Prism of the Agenda

7. Called to Serve: The Bell Curve of a Board Meeting

8. Called to Serve: No Reading Allowed!

9. Called to Serve: Death by Committee

10. Called to Serve: What's More Important Than Structure?

11. Called to Serve: Do Not Censor What the Board Receives

12. Called to Serve: Coherence With Corrals

13. Called to Serve: The Prospect Pipeline

14. Called to Serve: There Are No Committee Statues!

15. Called to Serve: SILENCE!

16. Called to Serve: Board Member Self-Measurements

17. Called to Serve: Be a Frantic Learner!

18. Called to Serve: If No Progress—Skip the “Progress Report!”

19. Called to Serve: The Phone-Book-Size Board Packet Syndrome

20. Called to Serve: Use White Space to Practice Hospitality

21. Called to Serve: When Your Organization Is Bleeding and Boring Board Members

22. Called to Serve: The Ten-Foot Pole Tension

23. Called to Serve: Board Meddling on Management’s Turf

24. Called to Serve: Max’s Most Memorable Message (1924–2017)

25. Called to Serve: What the Board Owes the CEO

26. Called to Serve: The Error of Leadership Indifference

27. Called to Serve: Give Space…But Plan Sparingly

28. Called to Serve: Don’t Neglect Your CEO’s Growth

29. Called to Serve: Goal No. 1—Keep Your CEO Alive!

30. Called to Serve: No Board Detail Is Too Small (Index to 30 Blogs)

P.S. Click here to read my original review of Called to Serve.

BOARD EXERCISE: Invite three board members to each pick one of these 30 board topics and give three-minute reports at your next board meeting. Then, in groups of two or three, ask each group to suggest an important “board detail” that, perhaps, you’ve overlooked or neglected in your recent meetings. Then, pray for the board’s effectiveness in the months ahead.

To order from Amazon, click on the title for: Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board, by Max De Pree (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company).

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Called to Serve: Goal No. 1—Keep Your CEO Alive!


Note: This is No. 29 in a series of blogs featuring wisdom from the 91-page gem by Max De Pree, Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board.


Max De Pree: “The fourth thing the board owes the president is care.”

In his almost-final pages of this board governance masterpiece, De Pree lists six ways that the board demonstrates care of the CEO. His priorities include:
   1. Care: devotional bonding
   2. Care: recognizing the needs of the CEO’s family for “friendship, support, and love”
   3. Care: mandatory vacations and regular health checkups
   4. Care: “the kind of care that goes the extra mile in compensation arrangements to include such things as budgeted spouse travel allowance and financial planning service”
   5. Care: continuing education and professional development (“especially the opportunity to be mentored”)
   6. Care: “the kind of care that keeps the president alive, that doesn’t permit him to ‘work himself to death.’”

My opinion: Start with Number Six. The untimely death of an over-worked CEO will only create more work for the board! You may want to add more to this list.

This week, a fellow board member facilitated an excellent exercise for our board—and his methodology would work for your board.  Read pages 87-88 about “Care” in Called to Serve—and then, in groups of two or three, ask board members to assess two things:
   • First, identify the priority for each “care” item: High, Medium, or Low.
   • Second, assess how well the board is doing in caring for your CEO. Use a five-point rating with 5 being Very Effective, and 1 being Very Ineffective.
   • Third, ask each group for a brief report on their assessments.
   • Finally, refer next steps to the appropriate committee for any action items required.

For more resources to help your CEO grow and flourish, check out these books:

   • Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives, by Richard A. Swenson, M.D.
   • Crafting a Rule of Life: An Invitation to the Well-Ordered Way, by Stephen A. Macchia
   • Serve Strong: Biblical Encouragement to Sustain God’s Servants, by Terry Powell
   • Leadership Prayers, by Richard Kriegbaum

BOARD EXERCISE: What is your CEO’s “love language?” What the board might consider a helpful resource or benefit may not speak to your CEO’s unique needs. Talk about it!

To order from Amazon, click on the title for: Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board, by Max De Pree (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company).

Monday, September 25, 2017

Called to Serve: Don’t Neglect Your CEO’s Growth


Note: This is No. 28 in a series of blogs featuring wisdom from the 91-page gem by Max De Pree, Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board.


Max De Pree: “In the rush of the day to day, a president often neglects his own growth; the board can issue a friendly reminder every once in a while.”

In wrapping up his succinct section on how boards create “space” for the men and women who serve as CEOs, I found this insight stunning: De Pree ties mission, strategy and a CEO’s personal growth all together.

He writes, “There are two further elements to providing space. It is wonderful for the organization’s future when the board takes a strong interest in opportunities given the president for personal growth and when the board makes it clear that it expects the president to hold the entire organization accountable for realizing its mission and strategy.”

So…would you agree that when the board cares about the CEO’s growth—and the CEO cares about the growth of team members—there will be a direct relationship between personal growth and organizational growth, especially when the mission and strategy are crystal clear?

Frequently, budget cuts begin by slashing opportunities for CEO and senior team enrichment—which is short sighted. It reminds me of this poignant comment traversing the Internet (if you know the original source, please contact me):

CFO to CEO: “What happens if we invest in developing our people and then they leave us?

CEO: “What happens if we don’t, and then they stay?”

Christ-centered boards should have the same mindset: inspiring their CEOs to thrive by providing an adequate budget and time for personal and professional growth. Amen?

BOARD EXERCISE: If your CEO was regularly accountable for reporting progress on personal and professional growth SMART Goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-related), would the dashboard show red, yellow, or green?

To order from Amazon, click on the title for: Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board, by Max De Pree (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company).

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Called to Serve: Give Space…But Plan Sparingly


Note: This is No. 27 in a series of blogs featuring wisdom from the 91-page gem by Max De Pree, Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board.


Max De Pree: “How can a board expect a president to paint a coherent or imaginative picture on an unlimited canvas?”

In his insightful section on “What the Board Owes the President,” De Pree writes, “Like everyone else, the leader of an organization needs space, in the context of this [discussion], space to become president.” He then references wisdom from a friend and mentor:

Dr. Carl Frost “has taught a good many of us that when we are promoted to president, it does not mean we are instantly qualified. The board and the organization are actually giving us only, as Carl would put it, ‘the opportunity to become president’—a great chance, but still only a chance.”

De Pree adds that great boards give a president space “by acting with [the CEO] to set the priorities, as well as working to involve the entire organization in understanding and adopting those priorities. How can a board expect a president to paint a coherent or imaginative picture on an unlimited canvas?”

Ralph E. Enlow Jr. agrees. “Plan sparingly,” he counsels in The Leader’s Palette: Seven Primary Colors. “Plans also fail because they are too bulky. Good planning is participatory. Especially at the operational level, it should flow up from the grass roots. It requires the input of all major stakeholders and systems.” 

And then Enlow adds this kicker:
“But good planning is not the accumulation of everyone’s aspirations.
Ultimately, a plan represents the elimination of options.”


It’s ironic, but when a board gives “space” to the CEO, that space must be defined. Whether you use the imagery of the corral from the policy governance® model, or the board policies manual approach recommended by numerous board consultants—every board must define the parameters of the staff’s scope of responsibility. That’s giving “space” in the best sense of the word.

Max De Pree’s wonderful book, Leadership Jazz (Peter Drucker called the book, “wisdom in action”), concludes with a list of 12 leadership attributes, including discernment. De Pree writes, “Discernment lies somewhere between wisdom and judgment.”

Christ-centered boards and CEOs have amazing 24/7 access to the Holy Spirit when they pray as the psalmist prayed, “Teach me good discernment and knowledge, for I believe in Your commandments” (Psalm 119:66, KJV). 

BOARD EXERCISE: Discuss “space” at your next board meeting. Are the fences to the corral well-defined? Is the corral too big or too small? Does the board allocate adequate space to the CEO—or does the board meddle and micro-manage?

To order from Amazon, click on the title for: Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board, by Max De Pree (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company).

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Called to Serve: The Error of Leadership Indifference


Note:
This is No. 26 in a series of blogs featuring wisdom from the 91-page gem by Max De Pree, Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board.


Max De Pree: “Trust doesn’t arrive in our possession easily or cheaply, nor does it guarantee to stay around.”

Commenting on what the board owes the CEO, De Pree packs a page with his plain-spoken color commentary on the elements of trust. New CEOs, he reminds us, don’t show up with a built-in trust factor. Ditto board members. Board members owe their CEO full trust—but board members must earn that trust by keeping promises.

I’ve endured endless committee reports over the years and occasionally—when pressed—committee chairs bend the truth to protect their reputations.
   • “Luis was late on his report.” (He wasn’t.)
   • “We’ll have that done by next Friday.” (Not going to happen.)
   • “Oh. I misunderstood.” (She understood completely.)

“Trust requires respect,” adds De Pree. “Trust multiples with truth—without adjectives and not subject to redefinition by cornered leaders.”

The author references an entire chapter on trust in his book, Leading Without Power: Finding Hope in Serving Community. It’s worth the read—especially the baseball story of the distracted second baseman who allowed a runner to steal second, resulting in two errors on one play.

“After a few minutes the official scorer, not knowing exactly how to score such a play, announced over the public address system that he had decided to write off the second error to ‘defensive indifference.’”

De Pree then asks, “How many errors in organizations are due to leadership indifference?"

Every board member should read the trust chapter in Leading Without Power. De Pree: “To tell capable people how to do their job, even innocently or with the best intentions, erodes trust. Such ‘advice’ becomes a sign of disrespect for followers. How can I trust you if you believe you are better at my job than I am?”

Whew! That hits home! None of us board members have ever implied we could do the CEO’s job better. Yikes.

Read Matthew 10 and then note this: after Jesus gave the Twelve their assignments, he didn’t pack a bag and go with them. He trusted them, on their own and in their own styles, to proclaim the Good News. Powerful! 

BOARD EXERCISE: Click here to visit the “Quotable Quotes” on trust and download and distribute the stunning list of 101 quotations on trust from Dan Busby’s book, TRUST: The Firm Foundation for Kingdom Fruitfulness. Ask each board member to read their favorite quotation—and explain why.

To order from Amazon, click on the title for: Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board, by Max De Pree (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company).

Monday, August 21, 2017

Called to Serve: What the Board Owes the CEO


Note: This is No. 25 in a series of blogs featuring wisdom from the 91-page gem by Max De Pree, Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board.

Wow! I must apologize now to blog readers—because in a few years, should I venture backwards and read these 25 or more blogs, I’ll grimace with angst. “Yikes! What possessed me to think that Max De Pree’s succinct 91 pages needed any more color commentary? Yikes, again.”

Case in point: his brilliant summary (pages 82 and 83) on “Mandate”—one of four categories of things the board owes the president (“or the conductor, or the pastor, or the manager”): Mandate, Trust, Space, and Care.

On Mandate, he writes, “Remember, we are committed to communicate lavishly.” And then this:
   • “Our mandate should always include a mission statement and a strategy, both of which derive clearly from who we intend to be.”
   • “Some folks like the idea of a job outline. For leaders, I much prefer a statement of expectations. A job outline can become a kind of box that tends to limit the leader’s imagination. We surely don’t want that.”

De Pree cautions that there be no ambiguity between “the statement of expectations to the promise of what will be measured.” You’ll recall from the last blog, that De Pree warns, “It’s so easy to fall into the trap of measuring only what’s easy to measure.”  

In working with nonprofit ministries and churches, I find that mission statements are often noble, sometimes breath-taking, even enduring and endearing. Yet…strategy? Shoddily articulated. Often written and quickly filed away. Rarely—derived from a fork-in-the-road holy moment on our knees.

If I could rewind the videotape for my own leadership and my consulting work with clients, I would invest less time on the mission statement—and more time on the strategy.

In their important book, Playing to Win: How Strategy Really Works, co-authors A.G. Lafley and Roger L. Martin write, “Every industry has tools and practices that become widespread and generic. Some organizations define strategy as benchmarking against competition and then doing the same set of activities but more effectively. Sameness isn’t strategy. It is a recipe for mediocrity.

So…to Max De Pree’s wisdom urging leaders to connect mission with strategy, I would humbly add “and sameness isn’t strategy.” My opinion—“sameness” is one of the Top-5 Sins of Strategy Development in ministry organizations—which is strange, because God has designed leaders and team members with very unique spiritual gifts, strengths, social styles and passion. Thus, it would lead us to discern that our unique organizations and unique people would also have unique strategies. Amen?

BOARD EXERCISE: Take out a blank piece of paper. Question 1: What is our ministry’s strategy? Question 2: Is our strategy crystal clear to our CEO (Yes or No)? You have five minutes. Go.

To order from Amazon, click on the title for: Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board, by Max De Pree (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company).

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Called to Serve: Max’s Most Memorable Message (1924–2017)


Note: This is No. 24 in a series of blogs featuring wisdom from the 91-page gem by Max De Pree, Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board.

Raving fans of Max De Pree were saddened this week to learn of his homegoing on August 8, but so grateful for this Christian business leader’s heart for God and passion for good governance. Here’s a link to the tribute from Fuller Seminary, where he served 40 years as a board member, retiring in 2005. The school honored him by establishing the Max De Pree Center for Leadership and noted:

“In his four popular leadership books—Leadership Is an Art, Leadership Jazz, Leading Without Power, and Called to Serve—Max, in a gentle storytelling style, shared his vast knowledge and wisdom about leadership and management, always emphasizing putting people first.” Fuller also shared a favorite quotation by De Pree:

“The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality.
The second is to say thank you. In between the two, the leader must become a servant and a debtor.”

For me, the most memorable message delivered by Max De Pree is about measurements. Throughout his writings, he gently pounds away on the importance of staff and boards weighing in on what to measure. (I mentioned this in my introduction to this blog series, “What Will You Measure in 2017?”) De Pree writes:

   • “In my experience a failure to make a conscious decision about what it is we’re going to measure often causes discombobulation and a lack of effectiveness and a lack of achievement.”
   • “The task of stating just exactly what to measure falls to the leaders in organizations. It’s not an easy job, and finding what to measure won’t happen automatically.”
   • “It’s so easy to fall into the trap of measuring only what’s easy to measure.”  

As your board considers what to measure each year (perhaps you’ve already done it), invest time also in spiritually discerning God’s direction for the ministry. As John Wesley said, “I judge all things only by the price they shall gain in eternity.”

BOARD DISCUSSION: Ask your CEO, “What do you want to be remembered for? And what should we measure?”

To order from Amazon, click on the title for: Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board, by Max De Pree (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company).

Monday, July 31, 2017

Called to Serve: Board Meddling on Management’s Turf


Note: This is No. 23 in a series of blogs featuring wisdom from the 91-page gem by Max De Pree, Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board.

Max De Pree: “Another tension arises when board members try to move onto management’s turf. Sometimes good members do this without intending to.”

It is the rare board that effectively governs at high levels without dipping into operational arenas. De Pree addresses this boardroom tension in just half a page—but the frequent problem deserves a full chapter (or maybe a book!).

There are many reasons why board members cross the line into management:

1. They don’t trust the CEO and the senior team. Some board members assume they are smarter and more competent than the staff—and so their “wisdom” in operational matters is needed. 

Solution: If your CEO is not competent, the board must address that issue, not work around the CEO’s lack of leadership.

2. They inappropriately wear their volunteer hats in board meetings. Board members, who are also volunteers in the organization, frequently raise volunteer issues during board meetings and then drag the board into the operational weeds. 

Solution: Once a year, screen the short video from the ECFA Governance Toolbox Series No. 2: Understanding the 3 Board Hats: Governance, Volunteer, Participant.

3. They have not personally experienced the impact of effective God-honoring governance. In the absence of healthy board experiences on other boards—or governance training, helpful resources, and board retreats with an enrichment component—board members tend to repeat mediocre boardroom practices: the same old/same old drill. They focus on operations because the big picture (vision, mission, strategy, spiritual discernment, outcomes, etc.) are absent.  

Solution: Inspire your governance committee to keep enrichment and lifelong learning on the front burner with books, blogs, resources, consultants, and an on-going call for board members to be stewards of their sacred trust. 

De Pree notes that “it’s up to the chairperson” to ensure that boards don’t meddle on management’s turf. If your board chair needs a refresher course in the calling and art of chairing, encourage him or her to read the new ECFAPress book, Call of the Chair: Leading the Board of the Christ-centered Ministry, by David L. McKenna.

BOARD DISCUSSION: Think back to your last board meeting. Did your board chair halt discussion that spiraled down into management and operational items?

To order from Amazon, click on the title for: Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board, by Max De Pree (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company).

Monday, July 24, 2017

Called to Serve: The Ten-Foot Pole Tension

Note: This is No. 22 in a series of blogs featuring wisdom from the 91-page gem by Max De Pree, Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board.

Max De Pree: “In the letter on the role of trustees, I reviewed some ideas on the matter of evaluating a board member’s performance. This is guaranteed to produce tension. Most boards and committees I know won’t touch it with a ten-foot pole.

In another “dire warning” on living with tensions in the boardroom, De Pree challenges and inspires healthy boards to look in the mirror—but he acknowledges this is tough duty. He adds:

“Suggesting that a volunteer be evaluated seems a little crass, and it probably is—
   • unless we’re serious about our mission, 
   • unless we truly believe members want to grow and reach their potential and serve society, 
   • unless we take our clients seriously, 
   • unless we respect our donors.”

He closes with, “Maybe we ought to be ready to deal with this tension.”

I’ve observed several ways that healthy, God-honoring boards assess their own performance:

#1. Annual Self-Assessment Survey. The ECFA Knowledge Center has three sample board self-evaluation forms (for the board, for an individual board member, and for feedback on a board colleague). Click here to download the forms

#2. Board Meeting Quick Assessment. Much like Ken Blanchard’s advice in The One Minute Manager (one-minute praisings and one-minute reprimands), healthy boards don’t wait until year-end to address inappropriate board member conduct.  So, some boards use a paper or verbal feedback tool at the end of every board meeting. (See “Quick Fix Tools for Board Self-Assessments.”)

#3. Third Party Assessment. True, most boards wait until the crisis to call in the cavalry. But healthy boards--when times are good--invite a third party (a consultant or another experienced CEO or board chair) to conduct a “healthy boards assessment” with one-on-one phone calls, an online survey, and then a report and recommendation. This often follows the consultant’s observation of a board meeting—where the true culture and Christ-centeredness of the board is best revealed.

Peter Drucker wrote, “Self-assessment is the first action requirement of leadership: the constant resharpening, constant refocusing, never really being satisfied.” That aspiration, in my theology, is beautifully biblical!

BOARD DISCUSSION: Has your board addressed this common tension—board member evaluation and assessment? How long is your board’s pole?

To order from Amazon, click on the title for: Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board, by Max De Pree (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company).

Monday, July 10, 2017

Called to Serve: When Your Organization Is Bleeding and Boring Board Members


Note:
This is No. 21 in a series of blogs featuring wisdom from the 91-page gem by Max De Pree, Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board.


Max De Pree: “Any diligent board suffers certain tensions. Perhaps this letter should be labeled ‘dire warnings.’”

Dire warnings! Mention those words and you’ll scare off all the recruits you have in your board prospect pipeline. But—think about this—the very candidates you want to invite onto the board are those who drink deeply from the reality cup and understand, like Max De Pree, that there are numerous tensions that spoil a healthy boardroom and a deeply satisfying board experience.

De Pree mentions several tensions:
   • “Good people disagree,
   • Do a little politicking,
   • Try to make decisions in the bathroom (the worst form of exclusion),
   • And come to meetings totally unprepared.”

Add your own dozen or more bullet points here…

I was struck, mostly, by his insightful acknowledgement that money is never the problem—or the solution to living with tensions. (My gut: most boards and CEO don’t yet believe this.)

De Pree notes that one of the “certain tensions” is that boards “need to deal constructively with constraints.” He adds:

“Often people think that with a few more resources, their problems will disappear. Of course this is not true. Few of us ever have all the resources we wish for. Our job is to help board members see that constraints are a fact of life. They are—believe me—along with reasoned restraint, one of the secrets to outstanding performance. Constraints perceived and understood are especially valuable to the creative processes that feed our strategic thinking. In fact, Charles Eames, perhaps the most famous industrial designer of this century, often said that constraints are liberating.

Huh? Our boards must think about this—deeply, strategically, discerningly, spiritually.

De Pree mentions other tensions—and his brief page on tensions created by a crisis is a must-read. Almost as a throw-away line, he notes this: “Sometimes tensions develop into a crisis…the organization is bleeding and boring board members.” That’s another PowerPoint-worthy slide. Is your board bleeding or boring board members—or both?

Perhaps the secret to living with tensions in the boardroom is to first understand that sin exists, yet grace abounds. (Romans 5:20)

BOARD DISCUSSION: Do we address governance tensions appropriately? Are we bleeding and boring board members? Discuss!

To order from Amazon, click on the title for: Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board, by Max De Pree, (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company).

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Called to Serve: Use White Space to Practice Hospitality


Note:
This is No. 20 in a series of blogs featuring wisdom from the 91-page gem by Max De Pree, Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board.


Max De Pree: “Hospitality has to do with equity for each member.”

Honest…my plan for this thin, quick-reading book was to crank out five, maybe seven or eight blogs—and then move on. Not! De Pree’s wisdom is so rich—so convicting. At least we’re 75 percent on our way to page 91, so stay tuned. The end is near.

I’ve never read a governance book, blog, or paragraph that said the practice of hospitality was a key ingredient of a board chair’s effectiveness.

De Pree explains with a few reminders:
   • “Asking people to sit in a circle with no table is surely a distracting and ineffective way to work…”
   • “…as is putting people at a long, narrow table where they can have contact with only those adjacent to them.”

He also reminds us about the tools of hospitality: pens, writing pads, agendas, minutes, records, reports—and how they’re organized. He notes that hospitality includes attention to social needs. “Things go better with snacks, drinks, timely breaks, and no anxiety as to where the toilets are—small matters that should never become distractions.”

The spiritual gift of hospitality, according to author Bruce Bugbee, is “the divine enablement to care for people by providing fellowship, food, and shelter.” If you were not blessed with that spiritual gift, however, it doesn’t let you off the hook. As board chair, discern who on your board or staff is specially enabled by God to practice hospitality—and invite that person to help you create a warm and inviting board meeting environment.

In the tremendously helpful new book from ECFAPress, Call of the Chair: Leading the Board of the Christ-centered Ministry, David McKenna, reminds board chairs to sense the need “for the white space of coffee and bathroom breaks,” and “pauses for prayer before casting votes.” (Read my book review here and watch for future blogs on the board chair’s role.)

By the way, practicing hospitality is not limited to the board chair. Board members will practice God-honoring hospitality by arriving on time (with homework done), pocketing all devices, listening, engaging, speaking thoughtfully—and not leaving early. And most important—every board member (and the CEO) will learn the spiritual gifts of colleagues around the board table—and encourage each person to leverage their spiritual gifts, their strengths, and their passions.

BOARD DISCUSSION: Do we practice God-honoring hospitality before, during, and after our board meetings? How could we be more hospitable? Why does this matter?

To order from Amazon, click on the title for: Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board, by Max De Pree, (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company).



Saturday, June 24, 2017

Called to Serve: The Phone-Book-Size Board Packet Syndrome


Note: This is No. 19 in a series of blogs featuring wisdom from the 91-page gem by Max De Pree, Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board.


Max De Pree: “A friend told me recently that when he gets his agenda package only a day or two before the meeting, he knows he is not being taken seriously.”

In his two-page section on “Be a Good Communicator,” De Pree touches a raw nerve—one that board members whine about frequently. He notes that effective communication between the CEO, the board chair, and all board members involves:
   • Agenda packets arriving well in advance of the meeting
   • “Producing usable minutes of the meeting in a short time.”
   • Being a "lavish" communicator.

I was reminded of the helpful Harvard Business Review article, “What Makes Great Boards Great,” by Jeffrey A. Sonnenfeld. He, too, whines about late-arriving board meeting materials:


“What kind of CEO waits until the night before the board meeting to dump on the directors a phone-book-size report, that includes buried in a thicket of subclauses and footnotes, the news that earnings are off for the second consecutive quarter? Surely not a CEO who trusts his or her board. Yet this destructive, dangerous pattern happens all the time.”

I know. I know. It’s very, very challenging to gather all the materials and documents and get them out the door to board members on a timely basis. Solution? Some boards memorialize the frequency of board reports (and arrival dates for board meeting pre-reading materials) in their board policies manual. (See Fred Laughlin’s and Bob Andringa’s excellent resource on BPMs here.)

Effective communication is fueled by trust. As Dan Busby writes in Trust: The Firm Foundation for Kingdom Fruitfulness, there are eight teamwork examples from the Old and New Testaments, noting that trust starts at the top. (Raise your hand if you’ve ever given a board devotional talk using Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego from Daniel 3.) 

Busby also writes, “The largest penalty paid by Christ-centered ministries is the ‘low-trust’ penalty.” Have you ever connected the dots between effective board communication and God-honoring trust?

BOARD DISCUSSION: Does trust fuel our motivation for effective communication? Do we communicate lavishly? Do pre-meeting materials, reports, and minutes arrive with adequate time to reflect and discern next steps? Are board members being taken seriously?

To order from Amazon, click on the title for: Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board, by Max De Pree, (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company).

Monday, June 12, 2017

Called to Serve: If No Progress—Skip the “Progress Report!”

Note: This is No. 18 in a series of blogs featuring wisdom from the 91-page gem by Max De Pree, Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board.

Max De Pree: “…one of the great time wasters for any group is the routine of giving progress reports when there’s been no progress.”

In his excellent chapter on “A Chairperson’s Guide,” De Pree continues to dispense governance wisdom in chunky nuggets and tongue-in-cheek witticisms. It’s the chair’s role, he says, to check with subcommittee chairpersons “to ensure there will be substance to their reports. If not, don’t risk frustrating the commitment of good people.”

Perhaps your executive committee could invest two minutes per committee (and I hope that’s not more than 10 minutes total!) to review the committee reports presented at your last meeting. Were they fruitful or frustrating?

Here are three reasons they might be frustrating:

#1. No SMART Goals. The best committees have three to five annual “SMART” Goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-related). Without crystal clear goals (recorded in the minutes), you risk wandering into the foggy wilderness.

#2. No Clarity Between Board and Staff Roles. Too many committees (let me say that again)…WAY too many committees…become a volunteer arm of the staff instead of a sleek, mission-driven committee that addresses fork-in-the-road policy issues.

#3. No Alignment With the Vision, Mission and Strategic Plan.  An astute committee chair will always introduce an agenda topic by connecting it to previous or future board action. Example: “As you know, our Rolling 3-Year Strategic Plan calls for us to introduce XYZ by the second quarter of next year—so our committee has been reviewing the staff recommendation on how this program might impact our Board Policies Manual section on outside audits of programs over X dollars.”

Bonus Reason #4. The BHAG is Just a BAG!  Maybe…the reason that committee meetings (and their lack-of-progress progress reports) are so frustrating is because board members (or staff) pull trustees into the weeds—rather than into the heavens.  If your BHAG (Big HOLY Audacious Goal) lacks the HOLY, then slow down and assess your “called to serve” core values and commitments. Do you experience holy ground moments—even in committee meetings?

Remember 1 Thessalonians 5:24 (NIV): “The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.” 

BOARD EXERCISE: At your next board meeting, present a gift card to the first committee chair who courageously announces, “We have no progress to report, but we are working on our three to five annual SMART Goals that the board approved at the last meeting. Thus ends our report!” 

To order from Amazon, click on the title for: Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board, by Max De Pree, (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company).

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Called to Serve: Be a Frantic Learner!


Note: This is No. 17 in a series of blogs featuring wisdom from the 91-page gem by Max De Pree, Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board.

Max De Pree: “Be a frantic learner. Feel a strong obligation to learn everything you can about your organization’s history, about its vision, its mission, its present circumstances, and the people in it.”

But wait…be a frantic learner about what? And what else?

Here are four more topics where “frantic learning” will pay rich dividends:

#1. Be a frantic learner about Governance 101. Many highly competent people enter board service through the volunteer door and—no surprise—inappropriately wear their volunteer hats in the boardroom and—without thinking—wear their governance hats when volunteering. Be a frantic learner and view the ECFA Governance Toolbox Series No. 2: Balancing Board Roles—Understanding the 3 Board Hats: Governance, Volunteer, Participant.   

#2. Be a frantic learner about policy governance. Some boards claim they operate with a “Policy Governance®” model, but in my experience, few do. (And not every board should.) I encourage boards to understand the continuum between “Policy Governance®” and hands-on/in-the-weeds board governance. At least one person on your board should be a frantic learner and read Boards That Make a Difference: A New Design for Leadership in Nonprofit Organizations, by John Carver.
    
#3. Be a frantic learner about dating board prospects. Inviting a friend-of-a-friend-of-Cousin Eddie to serve on your board (“He is wealthy!”) might fill a slot at the last minute, but the best boards take 18 to 36 months to “date” board prospects before proposing marriage. Be a frantic learner and view the ECFA Governance Toolbox Series No. 1: Recruiting Board Members—Leveraging the 4 Phases of Board Recruitment: Cultivation, Recruitment, Orientation and Engagement.

#4. Be a frantic learner about spiritually discerning God’s voice. It’s possible that your board is skilled at decision-making, but not discernment. Bill Hybels notes, “…I meet many people who claim to have never heard the promptings or whispers of God. Not even once. Sometimes when I probe a little deeper, I discover that their lives are so full of noise that they can’t possibly hear the Holy Spirit when he speaks.”

So when your board is faced with that critical fork-in-the-road decision when you must spiritually discern God’s voice—what if your board is made up of individuals, who in their own lives “have never heard the promptings or whispers of God?” Big problem! Be a frantic learner and read The Power of a Whisper: Hearing God. Having the Guts to Respond, by Bill Hybels.

BOARD EXERCISE: Before you order your next “everyone read this book before the board retreat,” take time to discern where frantic learning is needed. Seek God’s voice—not the hype from the bestsellers list.

To order from Amazon, click on the title for: Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board, by Max De Pree, (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company).

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Called to Serve: Board Member Self-Measurements


Note: This is No. 16 in a series of blogs featuring wisdom from the 91-page gem by Max De Pree, Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board.


Max De Pree: “How will I know if I am doing a good job?”

I gotta say…“What Does a Trustee Promise?” (pages 53-60) is a powerful summary of a board member’s role and responsibilities. I could milk this chapter for at least five blogs, but I won’t.

Chew on these morsels:
    • “The opportunity to be a member of a non-profit board is a special gift to us as persons seeking to serve and grow.”
   • “Like other forms of leadership, it’s not a position or an honor, but rather a demanding responsibility, a meddling in other people’s lives, and hard work that requires continuous learning.”

So…how should board members discern if they are doing a good job—if they are effective? Max De Pree says “a trustee should work to establish pertinent and compassionate ways to measure what matters.” It might look like this:

#1. Courtesy. Do I prepare for meetings, arrive early for meetings, and pocket my iPhone during meetings?

#2. Commitment. Do I affirm the mission and advocate for it—and do I know, affirm and practice our organization’s core values? (Can I recite them right now?)

#3. Context. De Pree asks, “Who am I in this context?” and “What is my purpose?” and what unique gifts do I bring to this context?

#4. Covenant. De Pree again on covenantal relationships: “It means that we spend reflective time together; that we’re vulnerable to each other; that we can challenge each other in love and deal with conflicts as mature adults.”

#5. Critique. “…evaluation is such a ticklish matter with volunteers that I have come to be a great believer in the need for written reflections as a way of gauging service and contribution.”

Imagine…if twice-a-year, every board member self-assessed their courtesy, commitment, context, and covenant—in writing—to discern if they were doing a good job. Imagine!

“Search me, O God, and know my heart; test my thoughts. Point out anything you find in me that makes you sad, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.” (Psalm 139:23-24, Living Bible)

BOARD EXERCISE: Before your next meeting, ask board members to read De Pree’s chapter, “What Does a Trustee Promise?” and then write a confidential, self-assessment, “How will I know if I’m doing a good job?” Discuss.

To order from Amazon, click on the title for: Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board, by Max De Pree, (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company).