Saturday, April 27, 2013

The Board and the Bachelor Farmer

As an observer at a recent board meeting, I watched the body language around the room as the CEO concluded his board report with, “And now I’d like to read a letter we received this week from an attorney.”

Most of us grimaced, “That can’t be good!”

But the glass half-full folks were right again. The lawyer’s letter announced—out of the blue—that a bachelor farmer had died and a gift from his estate was enclosed for this small ministry. But the unrestricted gift was large. More than $275,000!

Earlier in the meeting, ironically, after a team member reported on some amazing Kingdom results, the board launched into the Doxology in four-part harmony. 
“Praise God from whom 
all blessings flow.”

A second rendering of the Doxology almost broke out again.

At the end of the meeting, the board chair asked me to pray—and I was blessed with this Holy Spirit nudge to remind the board about governance faithfulness.

“Before I pray,” I began, “think back a few years to when this bachelor farmer was deciding where to invest his estate gifts. Undoubtedly he did his research and concluded that your ministry was worthy of a large gift.  But I’m guessing he also looked at the list of board members back then to discern if those men and women were faithful stewards of the ministry’s mission, vision, programs and funds.

“And today, I’m sure, more bachelor farmers, and dozens of other givers, are looking at your board—at your faithfulness—and discerning if your ministry is worthy of their giving. 
Board faithfulness, 
every day, every meeting, every year, 
counts for eternity.”

Traveling home from that exhilarating meeting, I was reminded of a column I had written in 2004, “Big Blessings Abound When Management Faithfulness Flourishes,” describing the faithfulness factors that enabled Joan B. Kroc, wife of Ray Kroc, the founder of McDonald’s Corporation, to bless The Salvation Army with a gift in excess of $1.5 billion. Click here to read more.

In Matthew 10:42 (The Message), Jesus said, “This is a large work I’ve called you into, but don’t be overwhelmed by it. It’s best to start small. Give a cool cup of water to someone who is thirsty, for instance. The smallest act of giving or receiving makes you a true apprentice. You won’t lose out on a thing.”

QUESTION: What stories of management faithfulness and governance faithfulness are you using to inspire and motivate your board members?

Friday, April 19, 2013

Your CEO’s Worst Mistake!

This week The Accelerators blog, published by The Wall Street Journal, asked their panel of experts, “What are some of the worst mistakes startup founders will make this year?”

Board members who have helped launch new ministries would likely relate to several of the worst mistakes mentioned:
   • Introducing a good idea to the market too early
   • Having too much vision—and missing what is right in front of us
   • Not talking to customers
   • Robbing yourself of helpful growing pains by sweeping mistakes under the rug

But one mentor’s insight arrested my attention. One issue is common not just to startup nonprofits, but in many, many organizations. Michael Lazerow, who has started four companies and invested in 25 more, asks founders one simple question:
What are the top three things 
you need to accomplish in the next 
six to 12 months to give the company 
the best chance of long-term success?

The think-ahead CEO will lead the board by focusing on this question at every board meeting. But if the question, and the board-affirmed answers, are not discussed, then the board must address it promptly.

Lazerow laments, “Most entrepreneurs I speak to can’t name their priorities right away. If an entrepreneur can’t name their top priorities without hesitation, how will the rest of the company know? It’s bad enough for a founder to work on the wrong projects. But if the entire company is not focusing in the right areas, game over!

“I encourage all leaders (of companies, divisions and small teams) to write down the top three areas of focus somewhere visible in the organization and communicate them to the entire team. By doing so, you are not only able to focus on what is most important, but you are also able to eliminate distractions, which is the biggest gift you can give as a leader.”

Amen! I encourage CEOs to seek board approval on up to five written annual CEO “S.M.A.R.T.” Goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-related). To keep the goals top of mind year-round, CEOs should email the board a one-page dashboard by the 15th of every month—with color-coded YTD bullet point commentaries for each goal:

  • Green: on target
  • Yellow: caution
  • Red: needs more focus!

Christ-centered organizations, by the way, should have a culture of grace that acknowledges “worst mistakes” because everyone makes mistakes. Yet, by settling for an activity-driven culture versus a results-driven culture, we needlessly delay Kingdom advancement. That’s the worst mistake.

QUESTION: What are the top three things you need to accomplish in the next six to 12 months to give your organization the best chance of long-term success?

Friday, April 12, 2013

No Bad Board Meeting Is Too Short!

How long should a board meeting be? One hour? Four, six or eight hours? A weekend?

Roger Ebert, the movie critic who died this month, famously said, 
“No good movie is too long 
and no bad movie is short enough.”

Ditto our board meetings!

If your board has been in the same old/same old rut for more than three years, it might be a helpful exercise to “zero-base” your board meeting pattern and see if a different meeting scenario might help you be more effective.

   • Frequency (monthly, every-other-month, quarterly or…?)
   • Adjusting the time to the seasonal agenda (two shorter meetings and two longer meetings)
   • An annual retreat (more time for prayer, interaction, evaluation and spiritual discernment)
   • Conference calls (try one in place of a face-to-face meeting)
   • Adding a pre-meeting lunch or dinner (and inviting spouses)

Caution! Of the four social styles on your board (Analyticals, Drivers, Amiables and Expressives), each style approaches the use of time differently:
   • Analyticals tend to be slow, deliberate and disciplined.
   • Drivers tend to be swift, efficient and impatient.
   • Amiables tend to be slow, calm and undisciplined.
   • Expressives tend to be rapid, quick and undisciplined.

For more on social styles, read my review of How to Deal with Annoying People: What to Do When You Can’t Avoid Them, by Bob Phillips and Kimberly Alyn.

Proverbs 15:22 (Amplified Bible) says, “Where there is no counsel, purposes are frustrated, but with many counselors they are accomplished." 

So take time to get input. If you gently and graciously focus on the board’s objectives, and not tradition—“But we’ve always done our board meetings this way”—you’ll get buy-in.

QUESTION: Is it time to rethink the frequency and the length of our board meetings?

Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Powerful Potential of Tab 10

One of the helpful resources in the ECFA Governance Toolbox Series No. 1: Recruiting Board Members is a sample table of contents for a “Board Nominee Orientation Notebook.”

I encourage boards to use this 31-tab binder as a tool during all four recruitment phases: Cultivation, Recruitment, Orientation and Engagement. (Why 31 tabs? Because Staples sells 31-tab dividers!)

Once completed (actually, I’ve never seen a complete one—it’s always a work in progress), the notebook is a treasured “one-stop location” for all organizational documents.  Trust me—your board prospect will be impressed and even assume your board has their act together! Here are just seven of the 31 tabs:
   • Current Board Members (mini-bios) and Committee Structure
   • Bylaws and Articles of Incorporation
   • Board Policies Manual
   • Board Member Annual Affirmation Statement (and Conflict of Interest document)
   • Annual Budget, Current Financial Reports and Audited Financial Statements
   • ECFA Membership Profile, Public Statistics and the IRS Form 990
   • Strategic Plan (Executive Summary and a one-page “placemat”)

All this is good, but it’s likely you have never leveraged the powerful potential of Tab 10, the list of your “Former Board Members and Board Chairs.”

A year ago in my blog post, Begin With the End in Mind, I referenced Rebekah Basinger’s insightful thoughts, “After Bye-Bye Board Member, Then What?” Here’s her full article, “After Thank You and Good-Bye: The Challenge of Holding on to the Hearts and Attention of Former Board Members.”

I was reminded of this powerful potential again yesterday when I received a packet of information sent to former ECFA board members. (According to the “Director’s Award” plaque on my office wall, I served six years on the ECFA board from 1989 to 1995.) Dan Busby, ECFA’s president, communicates intentionally and regularly with former board members—with perfect doses of “inside info” and encouraging news. I always open his mail first.

I’ve served on numerous boards, 
yet this is the only board 
that keeps me in the loop.  

Kudos to Dan and ECFA! (Memo to CEOs: a monthly donor appeal letter doesn’t qualify for “keeping me in the loop.”)

IDEA: inspire a current board member to create an intentional plan for keeping former board members in the loop. Christ-centered organizations can rightly expect former board members to be some of their best prayer warriors, but it will take creativity and intentionality.  If you do this, you will experience the powerful Kingdom potential of Tab 10!

QUESTION: What’s your next step for leveraging the God-honoring heart and passion of former board members?