Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Equip Your Board Members: Indexes to Inspiration

Imagine receiving these texts from grateful board members:
   • “Thanks, Jennifer, for chairing another stimulating board meeting. The ‘Ten Minutes for Governance’ segment was perfect for new board members. Well done!” ๐Ÿ˜€
   • “Pedro—thank you, thank you…for asking Skip to present the Ten Minutes segment on the board member’s role in fundraising. I’ve been on the board for five years. Best. Meeting. Ever!” ๐Ÿ‘

Many boards are following the practice of investing “10 Minutes for Governance” in every board meeting. (Click here to read this chapter online.) 

According to Lesson 39 in Lessons From the Nonprofit Boardroom, “The typical boardroom includes a mix of new and long-term board members who bring their previous board experiences (or lack of experiences) into your boardroom. Every board member carries unhealthy baggage into your meeting that passed as normalcy in a previous boardroom.

What will 2021 look like in your boardroom or on Zoom meetings? To avoid “bringing our delightful dysfunctions into every new board experience,” here are helpful “Indexes to Inspiration”—links to more than 200 blogs, lessons, and book chapters. Appoint a “Leaders Are Readers Champion” and plan now for a “10 Minutes for Governance” in every 2021 board meeting.


40 GUEST BLOGS: Lessons From the Nonprofit Boardroom: 40 Insights for Better Board Meetings 

40 GUEST BLOGS: More Lessons From the Nonprofit Boardroom: Effectiveness, Excellence, Elephants! 

40 GUEST BLOGS: Lessons From the Church Boardroom: 40 Insights for Exceptional Governance 

22 BLOGS: ECFA Tools and Templates for Effective Board Governance: Time-Saving Solutions for Your Board — Note: See Tool #19: “Ten Minutes for Governance (Lifelong Governance Learning—in 10-Minute Chunks!)”

18 BLOGS: Best Board Books (brief summaries of 18 board governance books)

30 BLOGS: Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board (the 91-page book by Max De Pree)

14 BLOGS: Owning Up: The 14 Questions Every Board Member Needs to Ask (summary of the 14 chapters/questions by Ram Charan)

Great Boards Delegate Their Reading! That’s a chapter title in Lessons From the Nonprofit Boardroom (click here to read online). Guest blogger Kent Stroman notes this from the U.S. Navy Seals: “Under pressure you don't rise to the occasion, you sink to the level of your training. That's why we train so hard.” Stroman adds, “By being intentional about ongoing board member education, organizations are investing in their own preparation to ‘rise to the occasion’ that will inevitably emerge—at the least expected moment.”

View-and-Engage! In addition to the blog options above, check out the four short videos in the ECFA Governance Toolbox Series. Topics include: board member recruitment, board roles (the three hats), conflicts of interest, and succession planning. Each toolbox includes a short video, a read-and-engage viewing guide, a facilitator guide, and bonus resources. Click here.

Blessings in the New Year! And speaking of encouraging texts, I’m so appreciative of Scott Rodin’s daily text ministry from The Steward’s Journey. As I finished this blog, this coronavirus-relevant insight arrived in his morning text:

“Being in Christ, it is safe to forget the past;
it is possible to be sure of the future;
it is possible to be diligent in the present.” ๐Ÿ˜‡

Alexander MacLaren

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

LOL! The ONE Thing You Must Do in 2021!

Get ready for the rush of rhetoric!
Way too many board members and bloggers will weigh in this month on the ONE thing your ministry must do to survive and thrive in 2021.

But before you jump on the bandwagon—take a breath, get on your knees, pray, and discern.
Maybe there’s more than one thing the Lord wants you to do.

You already know that the leadership and governance gurus have published a wealth of wisdom on what you should do during “normal times” and during a crisis (think COVID-19). What’s right for your ministry?

Laugh-Out-Loud! You have numerous options—and if you’re not confused yet, there’s still time!

1 THING. You should certainly read The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results, by Gary Keller with Jay Papasan. They write, “To do two things at once is to do neither.”

3 HATS. But…wait. Is your board clear about the three board hats? Three roles: Governance, Volunteer, and Participant. Click here to view the short video and board member guide from the ECFA Governance Toolbox Series No. 2: Balancing Board Roles.

Or…maybe you should trust the father of modern management, Peter Drucker, who said there’s not one, two, or three important issues—but five key questions your board must address. Click here to read my review of Peter Drucker’s Five Most Important Questions: Enduring Wisdom for Today’s Leaders, by Peter F. Drucker, Frances Hesselbein, and Joan Snyder Kuhl

The biblical number! Give your board a pop quiz—and ask them to write down ECFA's Seven Standards of Responsible Stewardship™. The standards, drawn from Scripture, are fundamental to operating with integrity. Visit ECFA here and connect the dots between integrity and 1 Samuel 16:7 and 2 Corinthians 8:21.

Yikes! BoardSource says there are (count ‘em) 10 critical tasks for the nonprofit board. Click here to read my review of Ten Basic Responsibilities of Nonprofit Boards, by Richard T. Ingram. (Three other “must-read” books are also mentioned.)

Keep counting! While Ram Charan appreciates Drucker’s five questions—he expands the list to 14 board-specific questions. Click here for the index to 14 short blogs on Owning Up: The 14 Questions Every Board Member Needs to Ask, by Ram Charan.

The Board Bucket is important—yes—but your leadership team must also master 19 other buckets (core competencies). At least that’s the premise of my book, Mastering the Management Buckets: 20 Critical Competencies for Leading Your Business or Nonprofit. Click here for all 20 buckets. 

Yes, there’s more! “The Principles for Good Governance and Ethical Practice” outlines 33 principles of sound practice for charitable organizations and foundations related to legal compliance and public disclosure, effective governance, financial oversight, and responsible fundraising. They were developed by the Panel on the Nonprofit Sector in 2007 and updated in 2015. Click here

Not a typo—85 is the number! Click here for the 85 board questions and answers from The Nonprofit Board Answer Book: A Practical Guide for Board Members and Chief Executives (3rd Edition), published by BoardSource. Note: The first edition, written by Robert Andringa and Ted Engstrom (1916-2006), built the reliable rails for the second and third editions.

The good news: there’s a plethora of resources to help you discern what to do—and what not to do. The bad news: most board members also have day jobs—and one person can’t be an expert on everything. But…everything is important according to Michael Canic, author of Ruthless Consistency“What matters more than anything you do is everything you do.”

Apparently—it’s not ONE thing, it’s everything. Did I mention prayer and discernment? My suggestion: for now, meditate and rest on 1 Thessalonians 5:24: “The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.”

The ONE Thing book asks, “What's the ONE Thing you can do this week such that by doing it everything else would be easier or unnecessary?” What’s our ONE thing this week?

In the introduction to R. Scott Rodin’s gem, Steward Leader Meditations: 50 Devotions for the Leadership Journey, author Richard Kriegbaum reminds us of “…the challenging reality that leadership is a complex field and no one resource can meet all the needs of every leader in every situation.” 

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Thank You. Thank You. Thank You!

“Do this! Do that! Do this better! Execute with excellence! Innovate! Ensure sustainability! Pray more! Move from good to great!”

Oh, my. Many of us rarely take the foot off the gas. (Sorry!) So...let’s push pause and be more intentional this week about saying thank you to the faithful members on your board.


#1. SAYING YES. You have other priorities in your life—but you said YES to serving on the board of a Christ-centered organization. Perhaps you even turned down a paid gig on a for-profit board to ensure you had adequate time to serve this ministry. Thank you.

#2. PRAYING. You take time to pray and discern God’s voice—first as an individual board member, and then as one of many board members. Thank you. And be encouraged with Ruth Haley Barton’s wisdom in Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership:

“With all this book’s emphasis on the soul of leadership, you may have been wondering how you get somewhere! Well, you get somewhere by discerning God’s will and doing it together. That is what spiritual community and spiritual leadership is all about.”

#3. NOT MICRO-MANAGING! Whew! We can tell. There are many times during our board meetings when (just perhaps) our CEO or senior team members are talking and talking and talking incessantly—and leaving inadequate time for deep board engagement. But…somehow, you have amazingly stayed calm, didn’t interrupt, didn’t suggest a Plan B or Plan C—and you gifted the staff with space to learn, fail, and grow. Thank you!

So as you continue to coach your CEO and staff, remember this advice from Michael Bungay Stanier’s book, The Advice Trap. He writes, “Your job is to stop seeking the solutions and start finding the challenges.” He adds, “You can be known as the person who helps articulate the critical issue or as the person who provides hasty answers to solve the wrong problem. Which would you prefer? Exactly.”

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you! Your heart for God-honoring governance is inspiring to those around you. Thank you for your board service!

READ MORE: Learn how one ministry board thanked a board chair for six years of service. Click here for “Forget the Plaques!”

THINK ABOUT: “Do not let the empty cup be your first teacher of the blessings you had when it was full.” (Alexander Maclaren) 

Saturday, October 31, 2020

7 Reasons You Must EXIT an Under-Performing Board Member

There are at least seven reasons why a board must remove an under-performing board member. Is it time to address the elephant in the room?

#1. Missed Meetings. If your under-performing board member misses meetings and doesn’t apologize or explain her absences—then the board chair should call her (not email). While still thinking the best of her—and that that you can inspire her to improve her performance—be prepared for a resignation.
   • Read: “Address Absentee Board Member Syndrome”

#2. Core Values Misalignment. Your ministry’s core values are prominently displayed on the boardroom wall, but one board member continues to push the board down inappropriate paths that are hardly God-honoring. “This works in business,” he blusters. “It will work here.”
   • Read: “Cut the Cord! Invite Board Members to Exit When They Don’t Live Your Values”

#3. Hyper-Focus on the Volunteer Hat. Two years ago, she was the ministry’s “Volunteer of the Year.” The Governance Committee nominated her for board service, but failed to explain the three hats of the board—and most importantly the Governance Hat. With inadequate board member orientation, she continues to drag the board down into volunteer operations. (News Alert! Many volunteers are happiest being volunteers, not board members!)
   • Read: “If You Need a Volunteer, Recruit a Volunteer”
   • And also read: “If You Need a Board Member, Recruit a Board Member”

#4. Same Song/Second Verse (a little bit louder, and a little bit worse). Your ministry’s mission and vision clearly point you in the direction of “Plan A.” And on your knees at your recent board retreat, the board sensed God’s leading and you reaffirmed that direction in the Rolling 3-Year Strategic Plan. Yet, one board member continues to lobby for his “Plan B.” That’s all he talks about—and it’s not only annoying, it’s disruptive. He has no filters.
   • Read: “Sidetrack Harebrained Ideas”

#5. The Bully in the Boardroom. Whew! Memo to self: Next time, check a board nominee’s references (work and church) before you bring him onto the board. Once the bully is in your boardroom, it will be very challenging to extract him from the board—but you must.
   • Read: “The Bully in the Boardroom”

#6. Time and Talent, But No Treasure. Some board members—often due to inadequate cultivation, recruitment, and orientation—never become “generous givers” to the organization. When you recruit with your board-approved “Board Member Annual Affirmation Statement,” you can inspire board members to meet this standard:

“I affirm that during my three-year term on the board I will arrange my giving priorities so that I am able to be a generous giver to XYZ Ministries, recognizing that major donors, foundations and other donors have the expectation that the XYZ Ministries Board of Directors will be part of the ‘most highly committed’ group of donors.” 

    Review Tool #21 in ECFA Tools and Templates for Effective Board Governance for the definition of generous giving. “Generous giving” does not mean that board members must be wealthy.

#7. The Passion Has Left the Building. Some board members are comfortable with longer board terms (maybe a year off after two three-year terms, and then repeat)—while others thrive best with a change of scenery. When a board member’s passion to serve has left the building, it’s time to create an exit plan—even if it’s mid-term. As Dr. Henry Cloud notes, “Wise people know when to quit.”
   • Read: “Seven Times When a Board Member Should Bid Adieu”

It’s not if, but when your board chair or Governance Committee will need to have a frank one-on-one conversation with an under-performing board member. Don’t put it off. Pray, discern, seek counsel from other board members—and then have the conversation (if possible, in person). Board service is for a season—but it is not forever!

BOARD DISCUSSION: What did our annual online board member self-assessment reveal about the health of our board? Have we talked openly—and with God-honoring graciousness—about the steps we would take should a board member need to exit?

THINK ABOUT: Good governance is not just about doing work better; it’s about ensuring your organization does better work.” (Bill Ryan speaking on “Governance as Leadership: Key Concepts”) 

MORE RESOURCES: The click-on index to 40 guest bloggers (and their 40 blogs) is posted at the More Lessons From the Nonprofit Boardroom BlogClick here to read the 40 color commentaries, plus the 40 lessons from the book.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Break the Script!

“How do you refresh a meeting that’s grown rote?”
In their book, The Power of Moments, Chip Heath and Dan Heath answer their own question, “Break the script.”

When I was in seminary, my pastor continually looked for ways to “break the script” on Sunday mornings—not to showcase his creativity—but to refresh our focus on our role in God’s work.

Example: For his pastoral prayer, he would exit the pulpit and walk the three steps down to the congregation’s level—and then read the headlines from the Sunday edition of the Chicago Tribune. After each headline, he would pray for the politician, or the grieving family, or those suffering from a natural disaster in a far-off nation. Fast-forward—I still strive to read newspapers with that holy filter.

In my journey through boardrooms over the years, I’ve often wondered why board chairs and CEOs don’t “break the script” more often. As Dan Busby and I noted in More Lessons From the Nonprofit Boardroom:

“Let’s confess. Our board meetings have gotten sloppy when:
Preparation is rote.
Execution is rote.
Celebration is rote.
Follow-through is random.”

(Click here to read Lesson 15, “Be Intentional About Your First 30 Minutes.”)

But I do see encouraging signs—especially in this COVID-19 era. (How are you describing this period: era, season, year, or decade? Oh, my.)

A ministry in the Northwest conducted a “Single Topic Zoom Call” to discuss and discern God’s direction about a ministry acquisition. The four-hour session was devoted exclusively to one topic only. Brilliant!

Another board (pre-COVID) added a special meeting, with dinner in a member’s home, to seek God’s will about interim leadership. There were not 17 agenda items—just one. Every board member weighed in. There was plenty of time for possibilities and prayer.

David Curry, in “Think and Pray Outside the Box—and the County,” (Lesson 29 in Lessons From the Nonprofit Boardroom), notes: “The tyranny of the day-to-day—budgets, meetings, and yearly events to sustain life and keep the lights on—can overwhelm most leaders and sap our energy, leaving little that could be used to power a big, God-sized vision.” Curry once scheduled a board meeting at an architect’s office—so the creativity and the environment would inspire the board to “break the script.”

I was recently reminded of this “break the script” hole-in-the-roof healing in Luke 5 in The Message:

“Some men arrived carrying a paraplegic on a stretcher. They were looking for a way to get into the house and set him before Jesus. When they couldn’t find a way in because of the crowd, they went up on the roof, removed some tiles, and let him down in the middle of everyone, right in front of Jesus. Impressed by their bold belief, he said, ‘Friend, I forgive your sins.’”

As you’ll recall, that set “the religion scholars and Pharisees buzzing.” There were two stunning results: the healing and the crowd’s response! Jesus “spoke directly to the paraplegic: ‘Get up. Take your bedroll and go home.’ Without a moment’s hesitation, he did it—got up, took his blanket, and left for home, giving glory to God all the way. The people rubbed their eyes, incredulous—and then also gave glory to God. Awestruck, they said, ‘We’ve never seen anything like that!’”

Imagine when your board members—wanting to refresh the focus on their role in God’s work—hear people giving glory to God and saying, “We’ve never seen anything like that!”

BOARD DISCUSSION: How could we “break the script” for greater board effectiveness?

THINK ABOUT: “The average board member doesn’t read a book a year. That is why he or she is an average board member!” (Adapted from Books Are Tremendous, by Charlie “Tremendous” Jones)

MORE RESOURCES: The click-on index to 40 guest bloggers (and their 40 blogs) was posted this week at the More Lessons From the Nonprofit Boardroom Blog. Click here to read the 40 color commentaries, plus the 40 lessons from the book.

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

DEAR JOHN: Books, Board Chairs, and Boredom

Based on my inbox, I’m wondering if it’s time to start a “Dear John” newspaper column? (You do remember newspapers, right?) I doubt if I’ll ever replace “Dear Abby,” but—here goes.

DEAR JOHN: I’ve noticed that you tend to answer board governance questions with “Read this book!” This isn’t the 1900s, Pearson! It’s 2020 and no one reads book anymore! Would you please just answer the question—and stop assigning homework to your readers? –A NON-READER IN REDDING

DEAR NON-READER: Charlie “Tremendous” Jones said, “You are today what you’ll be five years from now, except for the people you meet and the books you read.” And by the way, you must have read this governance blog somewhere—so apparently you are a reader. Way to go! And since you asked, I’d recommend you read The Little Guide to Your Well-Read Life: How to Get More Books in Your Life and More Life from Your Books, by Steve Leveen. Note his caveat: “Do not set out to live a well-read life but rather your well-read life. No one can be well-read using someone else’s reading list.” (Read my review.) 

DEAR JOHN: I read in one of the Dan Busby/John Pearson governance books that you have endured more than 500 board meetings. I affirm your word choice. I, too, have endured excruciatingly dysfunctional board meetings—and I’m the board chair (LOL!). What one book would you recommend I read to minimize the dysfunction and maximize our board’s effectiveness? –DYSFUNCTIONAL IN DENVER

DEAR DYSFUNCTIONAL: I’m so sorry you are not finding board meetings to be a joy. They should be. One of my friends, Mike Pate, says that board meeting days are the best days of the month for him. Click here to read Lesson 11 from More Lessons From the Nonprofit Boardroom: Effectiveness, Excellence, Elephants! “Thrive With Four Kingdom Values” is a great outline for a devotional thought at your next board meeting: Discernment, Deployment, Commitment, and Enjoyment. But…if you’re looking for one book on enriching your board chair competencies, read David McKenna’s powerful book, Call of the Chair: Leading the Board of the Christ-centered Ministry. He includes four assessment questions for the board chair—all convicting! 
(Read my review.)

And…one last thought. Not every board member has the wiring, the spiritual gifting, and the temperament to be a board chair. If this role doesn’t fit you—it’s OK to step down. Ask the Lord and a trusted friend what you should do.

DEAR JOHN: During this crazy coronavirus era, our board has cancelled our annual board retreat and—instead (wait for it…)—we’re meeting via Zoom for eight hours on a Saturday. Any ideas to keep the engagement high and the boredom low? –ZOOMED-OUT IN ZION

DEAR ZOOMED-OUT: You…and thousands of other boards…are mitigating COVID-19 in creative ways. Congrats! I wish I knew more about your board—and where you are, for example, on what Michael Hyatt calls the “Vision Arc” in his new book, The Vision-Driven Leader. His graph of the vision arc includes seven phases of the typical organizational trajectory through time (similar to Jim Collins’ five stages). If you don’t interrupt the trajectory, look where it leads you: Startup, Rising, Transitioning, Mature, Legacy, Zombie, Dead! (Read my review.) 

Generally—whatever stage you’re in—I’ve found that an excellent engagement exercise is to ask each board member to present a 10-minute “trendspotting” report—on a targeted topic of relevance to your ministry. A one-page template and instructions are included in “Tool #15: Board Retreat Trend-Spotting Exercise” in ECFA Tools and Templates for Effective Board Governance. Have fun—and award Chick-fil-A gift cards to all presenters who finish on time!

“Discernment is a gift of the Holy Spirit that comes with spiritual maturity.
It may well be the gift that defines Christ-centered leadership.”

(David McKenna in Call of the Chair)

Monday, September 14, 2020

“Where Was the Board?” A Board Ambassador BHAG

Imagine if you magically received ten dollars every time you heard or read the question, “Where was the board?”
I’m guessing you’d have some serious money in your savings account.

When reporters, bloggers, podcasters, and even donors and staff, ask “Where was the board?”—it’s usually in response to an organizational, financial, moral, or leadership crisis. But “Where was the board” is the wrong question. It’s certainly not the first question.

The question often showcases a foundational lack in understanding the basic roles and responsibilities of the typical governing board. Where was the board? Likely the board was present—but asleep at the wheel. But don’t blame podcasters, bloggers, and reporters for creating inappropriate expectations of the board. You gotta blame the board!

Here’s my Big Holy Audacious Goal (BHAG) for educating America! Add a new responsibility to the typical board member job description: “Board Ambassador.” Maybe something like this:

“Here at XYZ Ministry, every board member is also a Board Ambassador. We’ll equip you to leverage your circle of influence—and every appropriate opportunity—to communicate the mission of our ministry and the important role of the board in guiding and guarding the future in God-honoring ways. (What the board does and does not do!) As Board Ambassador, you’ll also be educating, mentoring, and inspiring the next generation of board members!” 

When the board chair “deputizes” every new and veteran board member with the “Board Ambassador” title, at least five good things should happen. Ask these five questions NOW and you’ll hear fewer “Where was the board?” questions later, we pray.

#1. To prepare for this new role, every board member will dust off the organization’s mission, vision, and values statements (and memorize them)—and review them regularly. 
     • Question: “Is the board in alignment with what God is calling them to do?” (Resource)

 #2. The board member job description will be fresh and relevant—and include “owning” the strategy and strategic plan and include holding the CEO accountable for three to five annual SMART goals. 
     • Question: “What’s the role of the CEO and when does the board conduct and address the CEO’s annual performance review?” (Resource)

#3. The board chair will ensure that a Board Policies Manual (think “corral”) is in writing and referenced at most board meetings. 
     • Question: “Is the board confident that the CEO, the board, and the staff are living within the policy (operating inside the policy fences established by the board)? How do we know?” (Resource)

#4. Every board member will look for opportunities to be the organization’s ambassador for educating people in good governance practices. 
     • Question: “Does my spouse, my pastor, my business colleagues, and people in my circle of influence, understand the role of the governing board?” (Resource)

#5. Board meetings and agendas will be more focused on the role of the board in guarding and guiding—versus listening to non-stop staff reports that pull board members into the weeds. 
     • Question: “Is the board living out the 80/20 Rule: Investing 80 percent of board work on future ministry opportunities—not rehashing the past?” (Resource)

Imagine…if all board members of all Christ-centered organization boards in North America were equipped and passionate about elevating the importance of God-honoring governance! Board members would be better at their board jobs—and maybe it would activate a holy ripple effect of good governance and stellar ministry leadership.

Then…instead of bloggers, podcasters, and reporters asking, “Where was the board?”—they’d be asking, “How do I get recruited to that board?”

Start paying yourself ten dollars for every time someone asks you, “How do I get recruited to that board?”

BOARD DISCUSSION: Who will take the lead on creating a “Board Ambassador” culture on our board?

MORE RESOURCES: You’re a more effective mentor and influencer of others when you are competent yourself, so pick a resource below to help refresh your board’s passion and understanding of their important governance roles and responsibilities:
     • Index to 30 blogs: Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board, by Max De Pree
     • Best Board Books: Index to 18 Good Governance Stimulators
     • Index to Ram Charan’s 14 Questions for Board Members + 3 Next Steps
     • Index to 22 Time-Saving Governance Tools and Templates