Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Quick Fix Tools for Board Self-Assessments

At least once a year, the best boards conduct a board member self-assessment exercise. Yet some boards delay the process until they have engineered the perfect assessment tool. Bad idea!

Peter Drucker wrote, “Self-assessment is the first action requirement of leadership: the constant resharpening, constant refocusing, never really being satisfied.”

Jim Collins also chimes in: “To throw your hands up and say, ‘But we cannot measure performance in the social sectors the way you can in a business,’ is simply lack of discipline. All indicators are flawed, whether qualitative or quantitative.” (Read more in his 35-page gem, Good to Great and the Social Sectors: A Monograph to Accompany Good to Great.)

Whether your self-assessment takes five minutes or 50 minutes—anything is better than nothing. So here are some quick fix tools and ideas:

Five Minutes.  At your next board meeting, ask each board member to rate their annual performance on a scale of one to five (5 = excellent); and share their rating (and why) with a 30-second comment.  (Some do this at every meeting—see the blog, “Fast Feedback Tool” and “We All Need Feedback.”)

Five Tools. Pick one:

1) BoardSource has several options for board self-evaluations and board self-assessments.

2) Ram Charan’s latest book, Boards That Lead: When to Take Charge, When to Partner, and When to Stay Out of the Way, by Ram Charan, Dennis Carey and Michael Useem, has excellent questions for board self-evaluation. Customize these questions for your unique use.

3) Use the one-page Self-Assessment in the ECFA 3rd Annual Nonprofit Governance Survey (62 pages) published in 2014 by ECFA. You can download a PDF here.

4) Customize the annual ECFA governance survey for your own use and benchmark your responses against the average responses of other ECFA-accredited organizations. 

5) Adapt the 20 board self-assessment questions from the book, Ten Basic Responsibilities of Nonprofit Boards (Second Edition), by Richard T. Ingram (90 pages, BoardSource, 2008). 

The first title of six in BoardSource’s “Governance Series” delivers the generally agreed-upon list of the 10 roles and responsibilities of nonprofit board members. (Christ-centered boards will likely add one or two more.) The book includes an excellent 20-point self-assessment for board members, with probing questions like:
   • “Are there ways in which your talents and interests can be more fully realized at or between board or committee meetings?”
   • “Have you and the board taken steps to deal with real or apparent conflicts of interest in your board service?”
   • “Which aspect of your service on the board has been the least satisfying and enjoyable?”

Click here for a link to four governance books (including the one above) I reviewed in 2014. Again—the goal is not to create the perfect tool. The goal is to improve our board stewardship of the ministries God has entrusted to our oversight.

God is faithful and He will give you grace and courage as you trust Him. May God bless you in 2015!

QUESTION: How will you inspire your board members to measure and monitor their own effectiveness in 2015?

Friday, December 26, 2014

A Bigger Idea Than “Starbucks for Life!”

Your favorite coffee stop has a big idea this holiday season: “Starbucks for Life!”

Just go online and enter the code from your Starbucks receipt and you’ll be entered in the promotion to win Starbucks for life. (Or as the company defines life: “Starbucks for life means one free food or beverage item per day for 30 years.”) 

Maybe if you drink coffee for almost 11,000 days straight, it will do you in after 30 years?

So what does all that caffeine have to do with the governance of Christ-centered organizations?

The coffee promotion (a pretty big idea) got my attention. And then I wondered,
“What might be some of the truly
God-inspired big ideas coming in 2015?”

One of the classic governance roles of boards, according to BoardSource, is to “ensure effective planning.” (Read the Ten Basic Responsibilities of Nonprofit Boards, by Richard T. Ingram). Board members in 2015 will either add value or diminish value as they discern future priorities.

For some boards, it will be business as usual. Cross the “t’s” and dot the “i’s” and operate without faith goals.

Perhaps you’re on a board that’s worked very hard in 2014—and you’re tired. You just need a quiet, uneventful year—maybe focused on faithfulness and obedience versus human-size big ideas. That may be entirely appropriate.

A few boards, however, will pray for attentiveness to God’s voice and, with hands open, will embrace both big and small ideas from our Holy God. Imagine…the privilege of discerning God’s voice and following His plan! (And funding often follows when we follow His plan.)

We already know God’s biggest idea (which leaves Starbucks in the dust): eternity! And that unimaginable gift of Grace doesn’t expire in 30 years. Wow.

QUESTION: How will you help your board discern God’s voice for 2015? Are you chasing after Big Hairy Audacious Goals or Big HOLY Audacious Goals?

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Gen. McChrystal: “Go White-water Rafting With Your Board”

Effectiveness in the boardroom was addressed in The Wall Street Journal’s annual meeting of the CEO Council (100 CEOs of large companies). The insights were summarized in the paper’s December 9, 2014 special section, “CEO Council.”

In a sidebar Q&A with the WSJ and Retired General Stanley McChrystal, former commander of U.S. and international forces in Afghanistan, we learn this:

WSJ: “If you had the president and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in a room, what would you advise them from a leadership standpoint on what to do now in Afghanistan?”

GEN. McCHRYSTAL: “I’d tell them to go get three cases of beer and go white-water rafting. It sounds like a joke, but when you get in the National Security Council room for the first time you think, ‘Boy, I made it. I’m in this room. This is kind of amazing.’

“And you look around and you’re not really a team. You’re polite to each other, and you talk. But think about it. We’re fighting a war. You spend months preparing a football or a baseball team for the season, but we take the most senior leaders, we put them in a room, we expect them to be a cohesive team to make tough decisions.

“And so, I would do things that started to build relationships so that you have something to fall back on when you disagree on the issues.

“I see the same thing in boardrooms for corporations. If they come in periodically, they don’t really know each other, they’re not cohesive; you’re not apt to get a very effective outcome. And I think that’s huge. 

“The strategic part is not that hard. Figuring out what to do, you can do that on a Saturday morning.”

Well said! Jeffrey A. Sonnenfeld had similar advice in his Harvard Business Review article, “What Makes Great Boards Great.” (Read my review here.)

Or…take a page from the New York Times bestseller, The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. George Yeoman Pocock, the master craftsman and leading designer and builder of racing shells in the 20th Century, advised a young man from the University of Washington rowing team:

“If you don’t like some fellow in the boat, Joe, you have to learn to like him. It has to matter to you whether he wins the race, not just whether you do.”

Depending on your organization’s doctrine and lifestyle statements, you could skip the General’s beverage recommendations, but the white-water rafting idea has merit. And for Christ-centered boards, I would build in a spiritual discernment component and ways to leverage the spiritual gifts of your board members. That will dramatically enhance relationships and boardroom dynamics.

Do you want Kingdom outcomes? Build cohesiveness. 

QUESTIONS: Are the relationships between your board members strong enough so when you disagree on the issues…you can do it in a Christ-honoring way? If not, is it time to get in the boat (or raft) together?

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The Only Bad Question Is the One You Had, But Didn’t Ask

Here’s savvy advice for new board members (actually all board members): “Do not rely on someone else to do your thinking.”

That’s from the very helpful book by John Pellowe, CEO of the Canadian Council of Christian Charities. Serving as a Board Member: Practical Guidance for Directors of Christian Ministries, based on a seminar and a DVD of the same title, the book is one of the best Christ-centered governance books available.

As you think about your next board retreat—and a book for every board member to read, consider this one.

In his foreword to Serving as a Board Member, Jim Brown, author of The Imperfect Board Member, notes “now it seems like ‘governance consultant’ is a pre-painted shingle that goes with every early-retirement, golden parachute check that gets handed out. The web is fraught with blogs and e-books on the topics of boards.”

So…pick your books carefully. Why this one? Right from the get-go in the first chapter, “Readiness to Serve,” Pellowe speaks to the hearts of future board members about passion and calling:
   • “If the ministry’s mission is not closely tied to your interests, your board service will be a draining experience…”
   • “The Holy Spirit can nudge us towards those good works that God has prepared for us to do (Eph. 2:10); this nudging is usually described as a call.”
   • “God’s individual call is normally in line with the gifts that you already have.”

And he’s just warming up on pages 4 and 5! He adds on page 7, “You really should be able to think theologically about the mission, governance, and leadership of the ministry you are serving. If you are new to the Christian faith, you may not yet be well enough equipped for board service in a Christian ministry.”

The book’s format is unique with the voices of other experts blended into sidebars. Pellowe, CEO of CCCC since 2003, sprinkles in his personal insights and stories (like his home church board meetings!) every few pages—fascinating stuff! Example: His story on page 126 on the “Bad” 3 Rs: boards that waste enormous amounts of time on “Reviewing, Rehashing and Redoing.”

This paragraph grabbed me—and is illustrative of Pellowe’s insights in every chapter:

“You must be diligent as a director. Make sure that you ask any questions that are on your mind. As the saying goes, the only bad question is the one you had, but didn’t ask. You may think that since you have a banker on your board, you do not need to ask any financial questions because someone else is looking after that. It is your duty to ask these questions anyway. Do not rely on someone else to do your thinking.”

QUESTIONS: When is the last time every board member read a helpful governance book? What’s the next book your board should read?

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

“We Don’t Eliminate—We Help Our Competition”

“We do not try to eliminate our competition. In contrast we try to help other Christ-centered organizations.”

That’s just one of exactly 1,300 comments received in the recent ECFA governance survey in response to this question: “If you agree that there are important distinctives of Christ-centered governance, please list one or two.”

CEOs, board chairs and board members shared their insights:

• “We interpret current information with the question, ‘What is God doing?’"
• “Decisions and discussions need to be within the context of seeking God's agenda as opposed to merely bottom line or goal-oriented thinking, decisions.”
• “Prayer—constant and continuing, both in and outside board meetings. Our board prays together for a half-hour via telephone each Tuesday morning.”

The perspectives were diverse—and prayer and spiritual discernment was a common theme:

• “Christ-centered boards are required to take certain steps of faith, whereas secular boards tend to be driving solely by numbers.”
• "Prayer: our board bathes the meetings, the staff, our plans, and decisions in prayer.  I've never served on a secular board that used prayer in this manner.”
• "We exist for primarily spiritual values.”
• “Living out those values is critical to being a board member."
• “Biblical conflict resolution (commitment to Matthew 18)”
• “The board members spend time in prayer on difficult issues.”
• “The board references scripture to address many issues.”
•  “Devoting significant time—maybe 25%—to hearing a [devotional challenge], personal checking in and prayer, before diving into agenda."
"Scheduled interruptions for prayer.”

Several board members pushed back a bit:

• “I think if the individual members are Christ-centered there isn't much difference.” 
• “While I disagree with that statement, my experience tells me that a Christ-centered board obviously has Christ at the center of the mission and the standard for conduct is based on scripture truths, but a secular board also has the adherence to fiduciaries of honesty, efficiency and performance that mandate effectiveness.”

To get the flavor of all 35 comments (out of 1,300) featured in the 62-page executive summary of the survey (pages 6 to 8), download the ECFA 3rd Annual Nonprofit Governance Survey (click here).  More insights:  

• “There is a missiological context for a Christian organization. How the Trinity achieves its goals and mission directly relates to how we do the same. How God does His mission matters in how we do ours.”
• "Always mindful of what Christ wants through prayer and fasting.”
• “We measure success by biblical standards."
• "We don't have to be sensitive to political correctness. We are obligated to be Biblically-sensitive and honoring."

And my favorite:
“We use the Bible
as a plumb line, 
and value gracious ‘other-centered’ 
relationships at meetings”

QUESTION: At your next board meeting, ask your board members to first write down their response to this question: “Are there important distinctives between how a ‘secular’ board governs and how a ‘Christ-centered’ board governs? Then, ask board members to share what they wrote with the full board.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Board Chairs Sound Off on CEO Issues

“What is the most challenging issue you face when working with your CEO?” 

According to board chairs—they don’t meet often enough with their organization’s CEO. That and other responses from board chairs are noted in the ECFA 3rd Annual Nonprofit Governance Survey. It’s available as a download to ECFA-accredited organizations and subscribers. (Click here.)  

The responses were categorized into five major areas:
• 25.4%: Insufficient Time for Board Chair/CEO Mtgs. (and Distance)
• 20.8%: CEO Leadership Issues, Management Styles, & Organizational Health
• 17.7%: Vision/Strategy, Priorities & Measurement
• 16.2%: Board Functions & Board Roles
• 10.0%: Communication & Timely Information/Reports

Another 10% of the board chairs reported that they had no challenging CEO issues at this time. Here’s a sample from pages 24-29 in the survey report:

ISSUE: Insufficient Time for Board Chair/CEO Meetings (and Distance)

  • “Distance, time and differing personality types. Only our love in Christ makes it possible.”
  • "Taking the time to meet with the CEO one-on-one on a regular basis.”
  • “Keeping current on status of ministry when we meet only a few times per year.”
  • “Finding time to support him.”
  • “We really work well together.  Maybe the biggest issue is me making more time to spend with the CEO.”

ISSUE: CEO Leadership Issues, Management Styles, & Organizational Health

  • “The CEO likes to micro-manage issues and finds it difficult to accept that other board members are competent to handle issues without her constant input.”
  • “The CEO is a visionary so sometimes it is difficult to make concrete plans.”
  • “Encouraging more aggressiveness.”
  • “Because of personality differences, we sometimes view things differently. However, it is never a show stopper.”
  • “Personality style: I am direct; he prefers indirect, especially with criticism.”
  • “CEO, to lead well, must be positive. The challenge is that ‘being positive’ can mask reality when reality must be faced (or truly known). We tend toward ‘overly positive’ and need to push hard to get to understanding reality sometimes.”

Note this insight from Boards That Lead:
“Most chief executives are constitutionally optimistic, and since by definition their role is to surmount challenges, the tenor they bring into the boardroom is likely to be relentlessly upbeat. Taking executive overassurance into account will aid directors in detecting nascent troubles ahead, but it is only one piece of a very complicated puzzle.”
(See Chapter 8, “Spotting, Catching, or Exiting a Falling CEO” in Boards That Lead: When to Take Charge, When to Partner, and When to Stay Out of the Way, by Ram Charan, Dennis Carey and Michael Useem.)

ISSUE: Vision/Strategy, Priorities and Measurements

  • “Keeping the CEO focused on priority issues.”
  • “Trying to determine pitfalls.  Focus is usually on what is more important at the time.”
  • “Getting her to focus on CEO tasks to keep her from dipping into the daily operations.”
  • “I believe all goals should be measurable and I have some trouble with getting that accomplished. However we have just started the idea of every program should have measurable goals, or the program will not be approved until those goals have been clearly defined with strategies for evaluating their success.”
  • “Focus on what's important vs. what's urgent; delegating, communication and follow through.”
  • “Keeping him from taking on too many new ministries/projects before completing the current ones.”

ISSUE: Board Functions and Board Roles

  • “I am very blessed to have a great personal relationship with the CEO.  It is never ‘enjoyable’ to deliver tough feedback, but know it must be done.  Fortunately, he is very receptive and allows me the freedom to speak what we, as a board, see as important feedback.”
  • “Performance evaluation.”
  • “Constructive criticism and correction.”
  • “Encouraging underperforming board members to improve.”

ISSUE: Communication and Timely Information/Reports

  • “Getting written reports in a timely manner.”
  • “Communication: to understand the issues at the same level as the CEO so I can make informed and intelligent recommendations.”
  • “The CEO does not want to communicate with board members because so many disagree with him leaving me in between in major disagreements.”

QUESTION: What is the most challenging issue you face when working with your CEO--and have you talked with him or her about this issue?

Friday, October 31, 2014

Top 10 Governance Survey Highlights

There are a few surprises among the Top 10 Highlights from the hot-off-the-press executive summary of the ECFA 3rd Annual Nonprofit Governance Survey. It’s available as a download to ECFA-accredited organizations and subscribers. (Click here.)  

Highlights include board giving, CEO succession, the gap between knowing and doing, operating reserves and measurable goals. Here are the 10:

1. Boards affirm distinctiveness of Christ-centered governance. There has been a dramatic and encouraging change in board member thinking, over 3 years, about the distinctives between “secular” board governance and “Christ-centered” board governance.

2. Strengths and spiritual gifts: more knowing than doing. While more than 95% of CEOs, board chairs and board members say it is important to leverage the God-given strengths of every board member, only about 17-21% of boards have completed a strengths assessment.  Somewhat more encouraging, 33-44% of board members say they know the spiritual gifts of their board colleagues.

3. Healthy governance: not there yet.  On the governance continuum of “Micromanagement (1) to Healthy (10),” about 35-40% of CEOs and board members rated their boards at 7 or less—but about 90% would like to be at “Healthy Governance” (8, 9 or 10) within 12-18 months.

4. In rating the three aspects of governance, fiduciary governance rated high, but generative governance rated the lowest. Board members agree that they are very effective in their “Fiduciary Governance” roles, but much less effective in their “Generative Governance” roles—the re-imagining of the organization, in light of trends and opportunities.

5. CEOs and board members agree that all board members should be givers and encourage others to give, but… while a healthy 87% to 91% agree that board members should be annual givers—less than 42% of their organizations provide training to equip and inspire board members on the “how to” of inviting others to give.

6. About one-third have operating reserves of 6 months or more, while up to 84% want at least 3 months of reserves within the next 24 months.  Based on their last fiscal year, 57% or more of survey participants said they had three or more months in operating reserves—and 30% to 33% reported reserves of six months or more.

7. Over one-third of board members recognize they dip into tactical versus strategic issues always or frequently. Yet overall, CEOs and board members said several unhealthy boardroom habits are usually avoided in their board meetings and/or addressed by the board chair.

8. Majority of board members not prepared for CEO succession.  In response to key questions “every board member must ask,” only 30-35% of board chairs and board members (the lowest response of the 13 questions) said they were prepared to name their next CEO.

9. Fundraising continues to be top area needing improvement. For the third year, CEOs, board chairs and board members were asked to select the Top 5 areas needing the greatest improvement in their ministries. Four areas have remained the same for all three years of the survey.

10. Almost 60% of CEOs and senior staff have annual measurable goals. Over 85% of CEOs say that donors are interested in mission impact—yet more than one-third of CEOs do not have board-approved CEO annual measurable goals. But good news: 84% of CEOs say their boards understand their role and God’s role in goal-setting and kingdom outcomes.

QUESTION: Download the executive summary and photocopy the 20 “Board Member Self-Assessment” questions (page 60) for your next board meeting. Then ask, “What are the Top 3 areas that need improvement in our board work?”

Note: A brief article on the Top 10 highlights is featured on page one of ECFA’s Focus on Nonprofit Accountability (Third Quarter 2014). View it here.

Friday, October 24, 2014

ECFA Survey: “Healthy Governance: Not There Yet”

On the 10-point scale between “Micromanagement (1) to Healthy Governance (10),” almost 40% of CEOs, in the latest ECFA survey, rated their boards at 7 or less. The good news: 87% of CEOs hope to move their boards to an 8, 9, or 10 within the next 12-18 months. Board chairs and board members were slightly more optimistic.

The findings are from “Highlight #3” in the hot-off-the-press executive summary of the ECFA 3rd Annual Nonprofit Governance Survey. It’s available as a download to ECFA-accredited organizations and subscribers. (Click here.)  This 62-page treasure chest of insights and trends includes 10 highlights, 130 open-ended comments from CEOs, board chairs and board members, and 9 strategic observations.

The report also includes color commentary, suggested resources, and next steps for boards. For example, the report notes six insights on “How Do We Stop from Micromanaging?” from chapter 13 in Ram Charan’s book, Owning Up: The 14 Questions Every Board Member Needs to Ask.

“Directors must take responsibility for managing the board’s time. As much as management complains about the problem of micromanaging, they may be contributing to it by providing too many slides and unnecessary details.”

• “Asking questions of an operating nature is not in itself micromanaging, as long as the questions lead to insights about issues like strategy, performance, major investment decisions, key personnel, the choice of goals, or risk assessment.”

• “The board is there to make sure management has a plan and that it is executing that plan.”

• “CEOs don’t realize that they bring some of the micromanaging on themselves with their presentations to the board.”

• “Addressing strategic topics first puts directors at the right altitude for the entire meeting.”

• “Another best practice is for the CEO and other presenters to give the bad news on the first page in unmistakable terms then describe the whys and the context.”

In my experience, micromanagers on ministry boards rarely think about the spiritual implications of operating in the weeds. Here’s an eye-opener from Bruce Bugbee, author of What You Do Best in the Body of Christ: Discover Your Spiritual Gifts, Personal Style and God-Given Passion. A friend asked him this spiritually probing question:
“Why are you doing what others can do,
when you are leaving undone what only you can do?”

QUESTIONS: What are the agenda items and tasks that only the board can do? What are board members doing that others (staff and volunteers) can do? (Note: Nail this one—and you’ll likely see calling enhanced and micromanagement decline.) 

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Twin Tensions of Honesty and Inspiration

Following Team USA’s loss to the European team in golf’s biennial Ryder Cup competition last month, U.S. Captain Tom Watson took the blame. According to a statement issued through the PGA of America and carried in the Los Angeles Times, Watson confessed:

“I regret that my words may have made the players feel that I didn’t appreciate their commitment and dedication to winning the Ryder Cup." 
"My intentions throughout my term as captain
were both to inspire and to be honest.”

Even board members who are not golfers will understand that twin tension: inspire and be honest! Just look at the short list of board agendas: the CEO’s annual performance review, quarterly financial reports, strategic plans, leading indicators—all opportunities for accountability, affirmation…or awkward silence.

Watson’s statement reminded me of the hot-off-the-press executive summary of the ECFA 3rd Annual Nonprofit Governance Survey. It’s available as a download to ECFA-accredited organizations and subscribers. (Click here.)  This 62-page treasure chest of insights, trends, and strategic observations includes 70 open-ended responses to this question:
“As the board chair, what is the most challenging issue
you face when working with your CEO?” 

Note these two board chair responses:

   • “Personality style: I am direct; he prefers indirect, especially with criticism.”
   • “I am very blessed to have a great personal relationship with the CEO. It is never ‘enjoyable’ to deliver tough feedback, but I know it must be done. Fortunately, he is very receptive and allows me the freedom to speak what we, as a board, see as important feedback.”

Balancing the twin tensions of Inspiration and Honesty prompted this homemade quadrant for your next board meeting:

   • The best board chairs are Symphony Conductors. Inspirational—absolutely, but highly demanding to bring out the best in the orchestra (boards and CEOs); always honest (“speaking the truth in love”), but with the right pitch—if you’ll excuse the pun. 
   • TV Hucksters make lousy board chairs. Their “inspirational” flim flam is inauthentic and dishonest. CEOs can spot huckster rhetoric a mile away.
   • No better—an Incompetent Counselor. Honesty is expected of therapists, but so is empathy. No inspiration nor motivation—no change. Board chairs take note! It’s a delicate dance to confront the brutal facts, yet still be inspirational.
   • Finally, there is nothing worse than a board chair who leads as an Inept Steward. That’s “steward” in name only because the ineptness cancels out any semblance of stewardship. Board members who are led by inept board chairs must address the elephant in the room—today.

For the Christ-follower, being inspirational and honest should come with the territory. It’s often difficult, but 1 Thessalonians 5:24 (NIV) reminds us that “the one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.”

QUESTION: As the board chair, or a board member, what is the most difficult issue you face when working with your CEO? (See what 70 others said in the ECFA 3rd Annual Nonprofit Governance Survey.)

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Should Your Board Launch an Advisory Council?

Over lunch this week, three of us talked about the upside of launching an advisory council for a nonprofit ministry. A younger leader was seeking advice, the invited expert was an experienced advisory council member, and in between bites of a chicken sandwich, I facilitated the conversation.

There is helpful counsel on councils, and numerous cautions, in The Nonprofit Board Answer Book: A Practical Guide for Board Members and Chief Executives (Third Edition), published by BoardSource. (Note: The first edition was co-authored by Ted Engstrom and Bob Andringa.) In the chapter, “Should Our Board Have Advisory Councils?” the jam-packed wisdom includes eight helpful bullet points in just three pages:
  • Set guidelines for creating advisory councils.
  • Choose an appropriate name. (“Avoid names that use the word ‘board.’”)
  • Describe the group’s role.
  • Establish terms of service.
  • Provide for formal leadership. (“Volunteers often respond better when one of their own chairs an advisory council.”)
  • Plan for staff assistance.
  • Budget for any expenses.
  • Provide appropriate publicity. (“Guard against providing more publicity than is warranted.”)

Our expert at the table described both positive and negative experiences while serving on advisory boards. (He preferred the positive ones!) While not opposed to serving on advisory councils where fundraising (giving and getting) is expected, he stressed the importance of the ministry leader communicating that expectation at the get-go. 

Alignment with the organization’s mission—we all agreed—was critical. I prejudiced the conversation with a few more opinions:
  • Invite people to serve who already have a passion for your organization. (Use the principles on board recruitment from the ECFA Governance Toolbox Series No. 1:Recruiting Board Members.)
  • Ensure that each advisory council member has a “personal win” by leveraging his or her “3 Powerful S’s: Strengths, Spiritual Gifts and Social Styles.”
  • Inspire each advisory council member to establish an annual personal BHAG (a Big Holy Audacious Goal). Each member should dream big and bold: an introduction to a foundation, a creative real estate deal, a strategic plan wish list project, or something else that God has uniquely prepared this person to do or be for your organization.
  • Communicate quarterly with a simple one-page update (mail or email). And treat them as "insiders," so they are among the first to hear both good and bad news.
  • If possible, meet annually for a half-day, or even better, for an overnight retreat with spouses.
  • Highlight the work of the Advisory Council on your website along with photos and brief bios. (Assumption: your board of directors' bios are already featured there.)

As you steward the amazing work of the people God is calling to serve your organization (staff, board, advisory councils, task forces, volunteers, givers, etc.), continue to inspire these teams of Christ-followers with their holy calling! (2 Thessalonians 5:24, NIV, "The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.")

How? BoardSource suggests you interview the CEOs of five organizations that already have advisory councils. Learn from their successes (and mistakes). James Belasco shared this wisdom in the Leadership Tip of the Day on June 29, 2010 (these daily email leadership tips are now available through the Hesselbein Institute).

“You can never do enough looking over the wall
to learn how to do things.
Seeing excellence in action helps individuals
visualize how they can do it for themselves."

QUESTIONS: Has your board invested 15 minutes or more in conversation over the value of launching an advisory board? Does your CEO have margin in his or her life to appropriately leverage the expertise of advisory council members? Who is responsible for spiritually discerning who might be invited onto the council?

Note: BoardSource also publishes a 36-page resource, Advisory Councils, by Nancy R. Axelrod. 

Monday, September 29, 2014

Board Member Getting: It’s Time to Demystify Fundraising

In my last blog, “Board Member Giving: 4 Types,” I launched a two-part discussion prompted by the ECFA 3rd Annual Nonprofit Governance Survey (watch for the Executive Summary this fall). The survey said there’s a big gap between board giving and the training of board members in fundraising and stewardship.

The Gap. The survey reports that “less than 42 percent of their organizations provide training to equip and inspire board members on the ‘how to’ of inviting others to give.” So there’s a big gap between expectations and equipping.

The Fix. (Actually, as you know, there is no “quick fix,” but there are best practices.) Here are some thoughts: 

First, leverage passion and giftedness.  Every Christ-follower does not have every spiritual gift. Yet, many leaders expect every board member to be competent fundraisers. Some are gifted in inspiring others to give; some aren’t. 

“Fundraising” is not a spiritual gift, of course, but I’ve noticed that some board members, with training and inspiration, can leverage their giftedness in leadership, administration, evangelism, even mercy and exhortation—to the benefit of kingdom resource development.

Next, let’s demystify fundraising. I was asked to discuss this subject with a board recently and so I started the session with a simple exercise. I asked the group to divide up into groups of two and answer this question:

“Describe a time when you experienced great joy
upon giving a financial gift to an organization, a church, or a friend.”

The stories were amazing! Smiles boomeranged around the room! The conversations were joy-filled. 

In that teachable moment many board members realized that generous giving is both God-honoring and personally uplifting. Many realized—almost an epiphany—that inviting another person to give generously is inviting them to experience the kind of joy that they had experienced. 

Inviting others into the joy of giving is a natural, friend-to-friend thing to do. It’s only unnatural when we allow Satan to cloud the purity of generosity with bad theology. 

So…rather than blame, shame, cajole or pressure your board members into being reluctant fundraisers, go slow. Invite reflection. Focus on joy, not obligation.

I know. It’s much easier to blog about fundraising than to actually do it. In R. Scott Rodin’s thin little novelette, The Third Conversion, he cautions Christian development professionals (and board members):
"This is a bad time to get good at doing old things. The new wine of this biblical way of raising ministry resources requires new wineskins."

QUESTIONS: Has your board or CEO created a “one size fits all” herd mentality that demands every board member must be a fundraiser—without thoughtfully leveraging the passions and spiritual giftedness of each board member? If so, how are you going change this? Could you individualize expectations so you’re aligning board work with the way God has uniquely made each person around the table?

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Board Member Giving: 4 Types

According to the ECFA 3rd Annual Nonprofit Governance Survey (watch for the Executive Summary this fall) there’s a big gap between board giving and the training of board members in fundraising and stewardship.

“CEOs and board members agree that all board members should be givers and encourage others to give, but…while a healthy 87 percent to 91 percent agree that board members should be annual givers—less than 42 percent of their organizations provide training to equip and inspire board members on the ‘how to’ of inviting others to give.”

This is a two-part issue—and so I’ll address it in a two-part blog. Here’s part one—to help your board assess and address board member giving.

As Max De Pree recommends, “the first responsibility of a leader is to define reality,” so I’m always on the hunt for precise labeling of strategic issues. Mark Dillon hit pay dirt with his descriptions of four types of givers in his book, Giving & Getting in the Kingdom: A Field Guide

Where are your board members—and where do you want them to be?

THE GIFTED GIVER (2-5% of givers) will show up at the dedication of a new building and ask, “What’s next?” Dillon says “the gifted giver seldom needs to be asked.”

THE THOUGHTFUL GIVER (15-25% of givers) tends to calibrate giving to current income “and rarely involves lowering their net worth to fund what they care about.” And, “They have joy in giving, to be sure, but often lack unbridled delight in investing resources for kingdom purposes.”

THE CASUAL GIVER (35-50% of givers) “possesses a vague understanding of their obligation to be faithful and generous stewards of their resources, but rarely seek out opportunities to give. They usually give in response to a specific request.”

THE RELUCTANT GIVER (perhaps 33% of givers) may be “an overly generous description, because many in this category give very little of their resources for any charitable purpose.” Easy to offend, they’ve had few, if any generosity mentors in their lives. Their parents were unlikely to be kingdom stewards either.

Dillon suggests specific and biblical ways to engage these four types of donors. In the section, “Big Ideas Attract Big Gifts,” he urges CEOs, pastors and fundraisers to engage givers at the front end of a project. “Big ideas are mission-centered.” He quotes one gifted giver,
“Please don’t come to me with an ‘order list’ already thought out,
where my only decision is how much to give!”

So…perhaps your board chair, your CEO and your senior development officer should thoughtfully (and confidentially) look at individual board member giving over the last two to three years—and “define reality” by slotting them into these four giving segments.  Then, prayerfully, make a plan if your reality check reveals you need to move board members into higher levels of commitment.

Caution! This is not a discussion about wealth—it’s a discussion about generosity and commitment. Board members will lack authenticity in inspiring others to give—if they, themselves, are not personally committed at a high level.

Jesus said in Matthew 6:21, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also,” and so many organizations invite people to serve on the board only if they are already in the generous givers circle. 

Many ministries define “generous” this way: As a board member, I will prioritize my giving so our organization is in the Top-3 of my annual giving. 

Again, this is not about wealth. Board members at all income levels can be generous with what God has given them. (That’s the brilliant premise of the biblical tithe.) Note: For more help on this, order the ECFA Governance Toolbox Series No. 1: Recruiting Board Members.

QUESTIONS: What kind of a giver are you? Does your board have written or unwritten guidelines on board giving expectations—that focus on priority (example: Top-3) versus an annual dollar amount? What’s your board’s next step in this area?

Friday, September 5, 2014

“Retirement Is Not in the Bible” – Or Is It?

This is not a theological blog, so I may be venturing above my pay grade here…but there’s a niche trend in evangelical circles that is expressed in a variety of ways. I’m not sure it’s biblical or Christ-centered. Some leaders write or speak (even pontificate):
  •  “There’s nothing in the Bible about retirement, so I don’t plan to retire."
  • “I’d rather burn out than rust out."
  • “My organization/board still needs me. There’s no obvious person to replace me.”

 Contrast these views with these scriptures:
  • “And the [instructions] which you have heard from me along with many witnesses, transmit and entrust [as a deposit] to reliable and faithful men who will be competent and qualified to teach others also.” (2 Timothy 2:2, Amplified Bible)
  • After Elijah “retired” to heaven, there was common agreement that “The spirit of Elijah lives in Elisha!” (2 Kings 2:15)

In my Bible, the relevant themes are:  coach, mentor, disciple, give away, prepare, empower, inspire the next generation, be God-honoring. There’s not much about: hold on, hold tight, protect your position [or your board seat], stay as long as you can, tell those younger leaders to learn patience.

I hope you’re talking about it. Some nonprofit CEOs (and pastors) hold on way too long and boards don’t have the guts to address the succession elephant in the room. It’s not an age issue, it’s a spiritual issue.
When will we allow the next generation
to be the leaders that God has called them to be?

Ditto many board members. Harry has been disengaged for three years—but no one’s having the difficult conversation with him.

The ECFA 3rd Annual Nonprofit Governance Survey (to be released this fall), with responses from almost 2,500 CEOs, board chairs and board members of ECFA-accredited organizations, addressed these issues with three questions:

Question: Does your board have a strategy for recruiting younger board members?
     Yes: 32.8%      No: 67.2%

Question: Do you have 1 or more board members age 35 or under?
     Yes: 36.5%      No: 63.5%

Question: Does your board have a written succession plan in the event of the CEO’s death, long-term illness or unexpected resignation?
     Yes: 34.5%      No: 65.5%

Benchmark your board’s practices against other ECFA-accredited organizations. What are you discerning from God about your CEO’s exit plan; and your aging board members?

Here are several resources:
   --New Voices at the Table: Welcoming the Next Generation of Board Leaders: A BoardSource Toolkit (PDF).

   --ECFA Governance Toolbox Series No. 1 - Recruiting Board Members: Leveraging the 4 Phases of Board Recruitment - Cultivation, Recruitment, Orientation and Engagement (view the introductory video)

QUESTIONS: Is “retirement” in the Bible? What is your board’s succession plan—and what is your specific plan for recruiting and inspiring the next generation of staff and board leaders?

Saturday, August 30, 2014

CEO Overassurance: “Far Rosier Than Reality”

I’ve asked dozens and dozens of seasoned CEOs and board chairs, “If you could get a do-over, what would you do differently in your early years of board leadership?”  

Here’s a collection of their thoughts—and insights from the governance literature:

A CEO told me: “I wouldn’t lie to my board!” (On the expressive side of the four social styles, this leader painted a picture far rosier than reality.)

The co-authors of Boards That Lead caution directors, “Most chief executives are constitutionally optimistic, and since by definition their role is to surmount challenges, the tenor they bring into the boardroom is likely to be relentlessly upbeat. Taking executive overassurance into account will aid directors in detecting nascent troubles ahead, but it is only one piece of a very complicated puzzle.” (Boards That Lead: When to Take Charge, When to Partner, and When to Stay Out of the Way, by Ram Charan, Dennis Carey and Michael Useem)

Another CEO, wishing she could revisit missed opportunities, responded, “I would spend more time with individual board members.”

“When asked what they would do differently, retired CEOs most often say, ‘I would give more time to developing the board,’” writes David L. McKenna in Stewards of a Sacred Trust: CEO Selection, Transition and Development for Boards of Christ-centered Organizations.

And here’s my answer to the re-do question: “I would have been more intentional in mentoring and inspiring board members with niche books. That would have created greater ownership of our vision and mission.”

“Avoid Management-by-Bestseller Syndrome that requires everyone to read this month’s trendy book. Instead, build a management library in your office and recommend specific titles to specific people for specific problems or opportunities.” (See The Book Bucket chapter in my book, Mastering the Management Buckets.)

You can create a life-long learning culture on your board by inspiring at least one board member, per meeting, to give a five to seven-minute book review on a key topic: governance, spiritual discernment, leadership, trends, risk, finance—whatever your need is.  Leaders are readers!

Carl Bard said, “Though no one can go back and make a brand new start, anyone can start from now and make a brand new ending.” (Wow. That’s the Good News!)

QUESTION: If you could get a do-over, what would you do differently in your early years of board leadership? What will you do in the next 90 days?

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Rooting Out Boardroom Dysfunction

Board leaders “can anticipate at least one major crisis during their tenures,” predict the co-authors of the excellent book, Boards That Lead: When to Take Charge, When to Partner, and When to Stay Out of the Way, by Ram Charan, Dennis Carey and Michael Useem.

Can you prepare for your next crisis? Yes. The first step is to “Root Out Dysfunction,” which is also the title of the fourth chapter. The authors explain:

 “In our experience, as many as half of Fortune 500 companies have one or two dysfunctional directors.” They identify three types:
     • “Some see themselves as the smartest person in the room.
     • Others seek recognition.
     • Others are frustrated would-be CEOs.”

They add, “Whatever their personal motives, they tend to micromanage or take boardroom discussions down dark alleys. We have seen a director interrupt the first five minutes of a CEO’s boardroom presentation and sour the mood of both board and management for the remainder of the day. The result is to impair, even negate, a board’s capacity to lead the firm. As in any group, a dysfunctional member can sabotage the entire team.”

The book cites a study of board members in Australia which summarized dysfunctional directors into these colorful categories:

  • Nonstop talkers: board members who “sought to demonstrate their exceptional knowledge”
  • Hobbyhorse jockeys: directors who are “overly focused on the one topic they knew well”
  • Hand-grenade throwers: board colleagues who “were contentious and obstructive”
  • Captives of compliance: this group “stressed rules over judgment”
  • Egocentrics: the “self-referential” types on your board
  • In over their heads: those directors who “simply did not understand their firms challenges”

Charan, Carey and Useem add, “That such excesses emerge in even the bluest of the blue-chip boardrooms is not surprising. Directors bring the same array of human foibles to the boardroom as do people to any room, though one would expect that the oddest of the oddballs would have been screened out.  What is more surprising is that so few steps are taken to limit the damage.”

So what should Christ-centered boards do when dysfunction is alive and well? First, read this chapter. It’s excellent. Next, ask your board chair to address the issue with the offender in a one-on-one conversation. According to corporate coach Marshall Goldsmith, every leader has blind spots and it’s possible your dysfunctional board member has never been graced with frank feedback.

"Love should always make us tell the truth.
Then we will grow in every way
and be more like Christ, the head."
(Eph. 4:15, CEV)

QUESTION: The authors suggest that “a boardroom norm on acceptable discussion and personal behavior can be of special value here, guiding directors on where their leadership ends and management begins.” Do you have a boardroom norm that every board member has affirmed?