Monday, December 28, 2015

Board Giving and the Generosity Circle

My last two blogs this month have addressed “10 Fundraising Mistakes That Are Easy to Fix.” In addition to a little venting, I’ve challenged board members to address the board policy issues that impact a ministry’s fundraising program. (Example: Who evaluates fundraising effectiveness?)

Let me now turn the discussion in your direction. Hopefully, you’re not just a “donor of record” (as some lame board policies require), but you’re a generous giver to the ministry where you serve as a board member.

In the ECFA Governance Toolbox Series No. 1: Recruiting Board Members, the “Board Member Read-and-Engage Viewing Guide” lists six criteria for board nominees:
   The 6 Ds:
   1. Discerning Decision-Maker
   2. Demonstrated Passion
   3. Documented Team Player
   4. Diligent and Faithful Participant
   5. Doer (“Walks the talk!)
   6. Donor

Here’s the commentary on the 6th D: “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, while your ministry can easily fix the 10 fundraising mistakes, only you can discern if your giving is in the “Generous Giving” circle or just the “Donor of Record” circle. While a generosity expectation may not have been communicated to you when you were recruited to the board, this week would be a good time to self-assess your passion and commitment (and generosity level) for the board(s) you serve on.

Fred Smith, Jr., president of The Gathering, has noted that there are at least seven models of giving in the Bible—and his insights will help you think biblically about your giving.

He writes, “A few years ago I heard an earnest, well-intentioned speaker present a message on the topic of the Biblical model of giving. It was the story of the widow’s mite and, as you might guess, the conclusion was we should be willing to give everything we have.

“I started thinking about that because I had heard almost my whole life that this story was the Biblical model for giving and, ideally, the gold standard. However, as I started looking at the different stories about giving in Scripture I realized there is a wide diversity of giving styles in Scripture—not just one.”

Smith lists seven examples: David (a leadership gift), Solomon (the extravagant giver), Elisha (gift of an opportunity), The Wise Men (team givers), Zacchaeus (exuberance and precision), The Widow (giving even to a flawed institution!), and Barnabas (powerful return on investment).

So how would you respond to Fred Smith’s Question? “I hope you ask yourself which of these individuals would be most like your own style of giving, and in doing so, you begin to recognize how your giving is a part of God’s workmanship in your life.”

My Question: Why should I give to your ministry if your board members are giving more generously to other ministries?

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

10 Fundraising Mistakes That Are Easy to Fix (Part 2)

In my last blog I listed five of the 10 fundraising mistakes that are easy to fix.
Again, I’m not suggesting you put these on the board agenda (it’s staff work, not board work)—but from a board policy perspective, who owns the annual evaluation of your fundraising program?

Here are the other five mistakes:

MISTAKE #6: Asking major givers for minor gifts.  One size doesn’t fit all. In fact, Mark Dillion believes most ministries have four distinct segments of donors. If so, each segment should be challenged to give at an appropriate, but differing level:
   • The Gifted Giver (2-5% of givers) 
   • The Thoughtful Giver (15-25% of givers) 
   • The Casual Giver (35-50% of givers) 
   • The Reluctant Giver (perhaps 33% of givers)

MISTAKE #7: One-way communication.  Think telephone, not megaphone. Ask your givers (here’s a thought!) why they give. It’s the third question in Peter Drucker’s classic five questions that every organization must ask: “What does our [donor] value?”  Ask: What do you appreciate about our ministry? What would you change? What do you value about our donor appeals, newsletters, website, special events, etc.?

MISTAKE #8: “This is a return envelope!” Vince Lombardi, the celebrated coach of the NFL’s Green Bay Packers, would start each season’s first practice session with this line “Gentlemen, this is a football!” Trust me, if Coach Lombardi was a fundraising consultant, he would begin each session with the four fundamentals that are often missing in direct mail pieces. Don’t let inexperienced staff (or board members) move you off the fundamentals:
   1. The outer envelope (Interest me! My opinion: mailing labels cheapen the message.)
   2. The letter (Inform and inspire me!)
   3. The response device (Direct me! What do you want me to do?)
   4. The return envelope (Make it easy for me. Even if I give online, maybe this time I won’t. Please give me a return envelope.)

MISTAKE #9: Short letter? Long letter? Wrong question! Roger Ebert, the movie critic, famously said, “No good movie is too long and no bad movie is short enough.” Ditto board meetings and donor letters. My wife reads every donor letter from one of her favorite organizations—because the letter is well-written, inspiring, interesting and packed with Kingdom impact. While focused on human crises, the letter never manipulates. She will frequently insist I read the letter.  Most other letters (short or long) are tragically boring. Those have a short path: mailbox to waste basket.

MISTAKE #10: Ask. Ask. Ask. Ask. Ask.  Hey! Take a breath and report back on how my gift helped introduce a person to eternity, or changed a marriage, or gave hope and healing in Jesus’ name. I understand you need more money—but I need more information. As I pray, discern and sort through competing requests, I always tilt toward the ministry that sees me as a partner, not a feedbag. Try this: Ask. Thank. Report. Inquire. Ask again.

QUESTION: When is the last time your board asked for an evaluation of your fundraising program and practices?

Saturday, December 19, 2015

10 Fundraising Mistakes That Are Easy to Fix

There is a wide continuum of beliefs concerning the board member’s role in fundraising. Policy Governance® zealots warn against board committees that replicate staff work. According to John Carver, “Board committees are to help get the board’s job done, not to help with the staff’s job.” You may disagree—and that’s OK. 

Whether you’re discussing fundraising in your board meeting, or wearing your volunteer hat to suggest improvements, it’s 100 percent certain you’ll be talking about fundraising when your year-end results are in. (Was it a thumbs-up or thumbs-down year?)

So…for what it’s worth, here’s my list of 10 fundraising mistakes I notice frequently. The good news—all 10 are fairly easy to fix. I’m not suggesting you put these on the board agenda (it’s staff work, not board work)—but from a board policy perspective, who owns the annual evaluation of your fundraising program?

Here are the first five mistakes:

MISTAKE #1: Donor letters that thank every person for their faithful giving—when, in fact, the letter is also sent to non-donors! (Easy Fix: segment your list into donors and non-donors.)

MISTAKE #2: A donor gives a gift to the ABC program, but the president’s generic thank you letter highlights the XYZ program. (Easy Fix: segment your thank you letters to appropriately report on progress for the specific gift given.)

MISTAKE #3: When a donor gives online, the emailed receipt is inappropriately designed for product purchases with a “shipping and handling” line, etc. (Easy Fix: use online giving software. Using a "one-size fits all" software program only communicates to donors that you don’t have your act together. Board members: give an online gift today--and assess the quality of the giving experience, and the receipting process.)

MISTAKE #4: When Mary Smith receives an appeal letter, or a thank you letter, addressed to “Dear Mrs. Smith,” but the CEO calls her by her first name, “Mary,” it’s one more indication that there is a sloppy, undisciplined development approach. (Easy Fix: customize every donor record. Good software will help you do this.)

MISTAKE #5: Focusing on the year-end tax benefits of giving versus the importance of the ministry’s work and results. When we appeal to tax-saving versus soul-saving, we miss the opportunity to disciple donors in what Wes Willmer calls the “Revolution in Generosity.”

Watch for the other five mistakes in the next blog.

QUESTION: When is the last time your board asked for an evaluation of your fundraising program and practices?

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Board Chair Best Practices #4: The Meeting Before the Meeting

Last month I began a blog series on board chair best practices. Here’s Board Chair Best Practice #4: 

#4. The Meeting Before the Meeting

You’ve heard this one: “As the board goes, so goes the organization. And as the board chair goes, so goes the board.”

The board chair’s role in thoughtfully and prayerfully leading the board—especially during board meetings—is critical to a healthy board. And a common best practice is for the board chair and the CEO to have a meeting before the meeting. 

John Maxwell’s helpful book, Leadership Gold: Lessons I’ve Learned from a Lifetime of Leading, includes an insightful chapter, “The Secret to a Good Meeting Is the Meeting Before the Meeting.” Maxwell credits his meeting management wisdom to Olan Hendrix, one of his mentors (and the first president of ECFA).  

In 10 quick-reading pages, Maxwell builds the case for turning routine meetings into productive action-oriented gatherings. It’s excellent advice for board chairs and CEOs to meet (at least by phone) prior to every board and committee meeting. Following the counsel of Hendrix, Maxwell writes that the meeting before the meeting: 
   1) helps you receive buy-in
   2) helps followers to gain perspective
   3) increases your influence
   4) helps you develop trust
   5) avoids your being blindsided.

The “no surprises” rule is critical for the key people in each meeting—and typically, that means you must meet with them in advance.   

Maxwell preaches: “If you can’t have the meeting before the meeting, don’t have the meeting. If you do have the meeting before the meeting, but it doesn’t go well, don’t have the meeting. If you have the meeting before the meeting and it goes as well as you hoped, then have the meeting!”

You’re probably not going to cancel a pre-scheduled quarterly board meeting—so that puts even more importance on ensuring that “the meeting before the meeting” is effectively conducted.

Proverbs is filled with leadership wisdom on seeking counsel; and challenges to inspire--not manipulate--people (and board members).  Proverbs 24:5-6 (The Message):
“It’s better to be wise than strong;
intelligence outranks muscle any day.
Strategic planning is the key to warfare;
to win, you need a lot of good counsel.”

QUESTION: Think back to a meeting that went south. Would a meeting before the meeting have helped?

Friday, November 27, 2015

Board Chair Best Practices #3: Pick Up the Check!

This month I began a blog series on board chair best practices. Click here to read Board Chair Best Practice #1 and Best Practice #2

Here’s Board Chair Best Practice #3: 

#3. Clarify Fuzzy Roles With a Prime Responsibility Chart

This week, a colleague shared a comment he heard from a board chair of an outstanding national ministry. When asked what the board chair’s job description entailed, this person joked:
“I can’t remember all my duties—but certainly one of them
is to pick up the check every time I have lunch with our CEO!”

I’ve never seen “pick up the check” on board chair job descriptions—but maybe we should add it! Here’s a tool, however, that will add clarity to the board’s work: “The Prime Responsibility Chart” (click here to download). Leveraging this one-page template has been a critical best practice in my board toolkit for over 30 years. 

A board member, Bill Benke, introduced it to me when he served on the board at Camp Sambica in Bellevue, Wash. Benke used a version of this chart when he was a strategic business analysis executive with The Boeing Company. The chart is simple and straightforward and can (and often should) be revised at any board meeting—based on policy decisions, cash flow, economic environment, and experience level of the CEO and senior team.

Most boards assign decision-making functions to various individuals and/or committees, including:
   • Board of Directors (example: hire and fire the CEO)
   • Executive Committee (minor decisions between board meetings)
   • Board Chair (appoint committees)
   • Board Treasurer (create finance committee agendas)
   • Finance Committee (recommend an auditor)
   • CEO (hire and fire direct reports, etc.)

The most important principle: only one person (or committee, etc.) has “Prime Responsibility” for a task or responsibility. Download the template to see how levels of responsibility can be assigned—based on board policy—using just three designations:
   • P = Prime Responsibility
   • A = Assistant Responsibility
   • AP = Approval Required

One board chair best practice is to ensure that roles and responsibilities are crystal clear between the board and the CEO, and between the board and its committees. This chart will help you eliminate all fuzzy roles!

Why is this so important? 

Proverbs 24:10 (The Message) reads, “If you fall to pieces in a crisis, there wasn’t much to you in the first place.” Don’t wait for the crisis (board/CEO conflict over fuzzy policy) to clarify board roles. As board chair, make clarity one of your top priorities—and eliminate conflict and friction before it happens.

POP QUIZ: At your next meeting, give the board a pop quiz with three questions on roles and responsibilities—and see if you have appropriate clarity.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Board Chair Best Practices #2: Become a Student of Your CEO

Last week I began a blog series on board chair best practices. Click here to read Best Practice #1: Ensure that there is 100 percent board participation in the CEO’s annual performance review. 

Here’s Board Chair Best Practice #2: 

#2. Become of a student of your CEO and inspire your CEO to become a student of you.

Almost fifty percent of the time in my workshops and consulting, I have hallway conversations with really smart people who say something like, “I just don’t get my CEO (or board chair). We’re rarely on the same page. I’ve chaired other boards—and my relationship with the CEO was almost perfect! Help!”

So I go down the well-worn path: “How many hours have you invested in studying and understanding your CEO this year?”

“Is your CEO a reader or a listener? What are your CEO’s Top-5 strengths on the Gallup StrengthsFinder assessment? What is your CEO’s social style (driver, analytical, amiable or expressive)?  (Watch the 3-minute video on social styles.) Do you know your CEO’s spiritual gifts (leadership, mercy, teaching, etc.)—and, if so, are you leveraging them—or expecting them to exercise strengths and spiritual gifts that God hasn’t given them?”

I explain that every CEO must be a student of their board chair—and every board chair must be a student of their boss. That’s why I urge them to study two resources:

• Read the Harvard Business Review classic article, “Managing Your Boss,” by John J. Gabarro and John P. Kotter. While written for employees, the principles are easily transferable between CEOs and board chairs. You both must own and navigate the relationship—not in a manipulative way—but in a mutual respect way.

• Writing a “memo about me” is a terrific exercise for both the board chair and the CEO, suggested by leadership guru Marshall Goldsmith in his convicting book, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There: Discover the 20 Workplace Habits You Need to Break. Chapter 12, “Special Challenges for People in Charge,” encourages leaders to write a memo, “How to Handle Me.” If written with humility and transparency, it’s a brilliant, brilliant tool that would smooth out much boardroom conflict.

What would happen if you applied the “managing your boss” wisdom from Gabarro and Kotter to board chair/CEO relationships?

“At a minimum, you need to appreciate your [CEO’s] goals and pressures, his or her strengths and weaknesses. What are your [CEO’s] organizational and personal objectives, and what are his or her pressures, especially from [the board and others]? What are your [CEO’s] long suits and blind spots? What is the preferred style of working? Does your [CEO] like to get information through memos, formal meetings, or phone calls? Does he or she thrive on conflict or try to minimize it? Without this information, a [board chair] is flying blind when dealing with the [CEO], and unnecessary conflicts, misunderstandings, and problems are inevitable.”

In addition to a 12-point checklist the article addresses that critical question: “Is my [board chair/CEO] a reader or a listener?”

“Peter Drucker divides [CEOs] into ‘listeners’ and ‘readers.' Some…like to get information in report form so they can read and study it. Others work better with information and reports presented in person so they can ask questions. As Drucker points out, the implications are obvious. If your [CEO] is a listener, you brief him or her in person, then follow it up with a memo. If your [CEO] is a reader, you cover important items or proposals in a memo or report, then discuss them.”

Obviously…all of the above is just as critical for CEOs as they become students of the revolving person in the board chair. (More on that down the road!)

QUESTION TO BOARD CHAIRS: How many hours have you invested this year in becoming a student of your CEO’s learning style, strengths and spiritual gifts? And how will you help your CEO to understand your style and strengths?

Friday, November 6, 2015

Board Chair Best Practices #1: CEO Annual Reviews

I’ve heard this refrain numerous times—and it’s true: “As the board goes, so goes the organization. And the board will be no more effective than its chair.”

Here’s my Board Chair Best Practice #1 (stay tuned for more):

#1. Ensure that there is 100 percent board participation in the CEO’s annual performance review. Since the board chair is not the CEO’s boss, never-ever-ever should the board chair conduct the CEO’s annual review as a Lone Ranger.  

The best boards agree with the CEO—in advance—on the format and setting for the CEO’s annual review and the protocol for how the CEO responds with next steps, following the review. 

My opinion: 50 percent of the annual review should be based on agreed-upon annual measurable goals, set at the beginning of the year. (Peter Drucker said, “If you have more than five goals, you have none.”) 

The other 50 percent: focus on biblical qualities, including character, leadership, vision, passion, and other critical characteristics per your ministry’s culture, DNA, and mission.

Some organizations conduct a 360 review (the board, the CEO’s direct reports, and the CEO’s own self-assessment). Others develop metrics to discern if the core values of the ministry are being lived out, and if so, to what degree.

As a reminder, though, heed this wisdom from Ten Basic Responsibilities of Nonprofit Boards (Second Edition), by Richard T. Ingram, regarding CEO performance reviews: 

“In the end, although we may not be able to precisely define what outstanding leadership is, we know it when we see it! Let’s admit that this very subjective process is more art than science, more human than anything else. We can and should use various objective measures or strategic indicators of the organization’s progress on its financial condition, for example, as part of the assessment process—but whether a leader stays or goes so often hangs on much more subtle factors.”

And, as I’ve often quoted in this blog, here again is Ram Charan’s insight from Owning Up: The 14 Questions Every Board Member Needs to Ask, by Ram Charan

“There is nothing more important for a CEO than having the right strategy
and right choice of goals, and for the board, the right strategy
is second only to having the right CEO.”

He also notes, “With the right composition, a board can create value; with the wrong or inappropriate composition, it can easily destroy value.” So while you’re conducting the annual performance review of your CEO, be sure you schedule the board’s annual self-assessment process.

As the board goes, so goes the organization. Great boards are intentional about spiritually discerning God’s direction and how they will steward all the resources of the ministry—including their CEO’s leadership and tenure. Many times, however, it’s the board chair that must lead and put the CEO’s annual review on the front burner (sorry—bad metaphor!).

QUESTION: Is your board creating value or destroying value when it conducts your CEO’s annual performance review? (If you’re not conducting an annual review—you’re not adding value, and you’re missing an opportunity to grow your leadership.)

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Governance Stew

Not every blog needs several hundred words. Sometimes one-liners are adequate and satisfying. Or a paragraph. So for today, I’ve tossed several governance ingredients into the kettle. After simmering, add your own spice as needed. 

Engagement Thermometer:
You can’t stick a cooking thermometer into a board member’s arm—so how do you measure board meeting engagement? Recently, a highly engaged church elder told me, “It’s fun when long meetings don’t even feel long!”

Aristotle (384 -322 BC):
“The soul never thinks without a picture.”

Board Member (21st Century):
Regarding the style, length and frequency of CEO written reports to the board, a board chair told me recently, “I’m more of a People magazine guy versus a Forbes magazine guy.” (So how would you characterize your board members’ reading preferences? One size doesn’t fit all.)

Poor Management Is Not a Crime. Discuss!
“The Justice Department won’t charge former Internal Revenue Service official Lois Lerner over tea-party groups’ applications for tax-exempt status, concluding that IRS officials bungled the matter but committed no crimes.

“Our investigation uncovered substantial evidence of mismanagement, poor judgment and institutional inertia, leading to the belief by many tax-exempt applicants that the IRS targeted them based on their political viewpoints,” Assistant Attorney General Peter Kadzik wrote to Congress on Friday. “But poor management is not a crime.” (The Wall Street Journal, Oct. 23, 2015)

Board Homework:

Peter Drucker:
“All the first rate decision makers I’ve observed had a very simple rule: If you have quick consensus on an important matter,
don’t make the decision.
Acclamation means nobody has done the homework.” 
(Peter Drucker’s Five Most Important Questions: Enduring Wisdom for Today’s Leaders, by Peter F. Drucker, France Hesselbein, and Joan Snyder Kuhl)

At your next board meeting, ask each board member to toss a memorable governance principle or axiom or complex issue into the governance stew—and then serve it up in small discussion groups (with food, of course).

QUESTION: What’s the best governance axiom you’ve heard—and why?

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

ECFA Financial Management Survey Highlights

Results from the first-ever survey of financial management practices of ECFA-accredited organizations was recently published by ECFA. The executive summary of the ECFA Nonprofit Financial Management Survey 1.0 can be downloaded here on the ECFA website.

Share the “Top 10 Highlights” with your board:

#1. CFO Hats. Chief financial officers wear numerous hats—including financial management. Only 10% of CFOs in the survey devote 100% of their time to the financial management role. Of the other 90%, just under 70% of those CFOs also have administration and/or operations roles. Plus, 21% of this group wear fundraising/development hats—in addition to their CFO hats.

#2. Written Policies. Almost 79% of CFOs said their financial policies are in writing, but only 59% said their most important financial policies are incorporated in a “Board Policies Manual” or other board-approved document.

#3. Financial Policy Trends. CFOs shared 90 comments in response to the question “What is one financial policy trend that you are observing that may have a significant impact on your organization in the future?” 

Trends included upcoming FASB changes, investment and operating reserve policies, authorization levels and thresholds for expenditures, sustainability policies, internal controls for internet protocol (keeping financial information confidential), credit card policies, volunteer policies (and replacing staff with volunteers), requiring performance management of all initiatives including new staff, program policies that impact fees and costs, “the trend to minimize the importance of financial policies,” and pushback by younger staff that there are too many policies.

#4.  ACA. Who is taking the hit on the Affordable Care Act? Responding to their budgeting assumptions about the ACA, almost 73% of ministries have not restructured some of their fulltime positions as part-time positions. Yet, 35% agreed or strongly agreed that employee contributions for health insurance will increase, while another 31% were undecided at this point.

#5. Budgeting for Reserves. When asked “Does your ministry annually budget for cash reserves?” 38% of organizations responded “Never” or “Rarely.” The remaining 62% responded as follows: 22.5% said “Always,” 16.5% said “Frequently,” and 22.8% checked “Sometimes.”

#6. Internal Controls Policies. Fraud prevention procedures and checklists, etc., are formally reviewed at least annually by the financial management team in over 60% of ministries. More than 79% of the survey respondents have a written whistleblower policy.

#7. CFO Measurable Goals. Fifty percent of CFOs said they had measurable goals that their CEOs have affirmed for this current fiscal year—but only 45% of that group report progress to their CEOs! Plus, just 40% of the direct reports to CFOs have annual measurable goals.

#8. Measuring Mission Impact. The survey revealed that almost 85% of CFOs agree or strongly agree that “Our donors are highly interested in knowing about our mission impact.” Yet, just 72% of CFOs agreed or strongly agreed that their boards are very focused on measuring mission impact.

#9. Effectiveness Ratings. While CFOs rated their effectiveness fairly high in five major categories, the two highest scores were in the financial reporting and internal control areas—a rating of 4.24 and 4.23, respectively, on a scale of 1.00 to 5.00 (5.00 being the highest). Financial performance was rated the lowest at 3.97, but still quite effective.

#10. Financial Dashboards. CFOs are utilizing a wide range of financial dashboards when reporting to the board of directors. More than 400 dashboard examples were submitted, including many duplicates, of course.

At your next board meeting, review these top 10 highlights and ask board members to complete the “Financial Management Organizational Assessment” included in the executive summary.

QUESTION: Of the top 10 highlights above, identify the one area that needs the greatest improvement so your board can more effectively steward your ministry’s finances.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Happy Birthday! (When Is It?)

Pop quiz for board chairs and all board members:
  1. When is your CEO’s birthday?
  2. When is your CEO’s employment anniversary at your ministry? How many years?
  3. Is your CEO a reader or a listener?
  4. What are your CEO’s Top 5 strengths from the Gallup Organization’s StrengthsFinder assessment?
  5. What are your CEO’s most dominant spiritual gifts?
  6. On the social styles chart, is your CEO a Driver, Analytical, Amiable, or Expressive?
  7. What is your CEO’s love language?
  8. What is one thing on your CEO’s bucket list?
  9. What is your CEO’s favorite Bible verse?
  10. What are three of your CEO’s measurable goals for this fiscal year?
  11. Describe how God led your CEO to accept the leadership post at your organization.
  12. In honoring your CEO for achieving a key annual goal, would he or she prefer a plaque on the wall, or a cash bonus?

How well do you know your CEO?  (Stay tuned for “Lessons Learned” in the next blog post.)

QUESTION: How well do you know your CEO—and why might that be important?

Monday, September 21, 2015

Monitoring (Not Micro-managing) Programs and Services

Here’s a common question from board members: “How do we appropriately monitor programs, products and services without becoming micro-managers?”

According to BoardSource’s Ten Basic Responsibilities of Nonprofit Boards, the fifth responsibility is to monitor and strengthen programs and services. “The board’s fundamental responsibilities begin with ensuring that current and proposed programs and services align with the organization’s stated mission and purposes.”

Richard T. Ingram adds, “What the organization actually does, and how well it does it, should be at the heart of board curiosity.”

So how do you discern “how well it does it” without getting into the weeds?  I tilt toward customer/client survey information to keep the board at a high level.  In assessing organizational activities, Ingram lists four bullet points including this:
   • “Studying both the cost-benefit ratio of major undertakings and user satisfaction data (hearing from users of certain programs and services) to facilitate an exchange of information and learning.”

I’ve observed ministry boards use a variety of user satisfaction data including:
• Conducting focus groups with their “primary customers” (per Peter Drucker’s definition)
• Assessing their Net Promoter Score (one ministry I work with has improved their score from 52, to 56, to 58 in the last three years)
• Using inexpensive online survey tools, like SurveyMonkey

Excellent boards inspire their CEOs and senior team members to set annual customer satisfaction goals—and then report on them (quarterly is helpful, annually is essential). Multi-year benchmarking trends will help the board discern program directions and the allocation of resources to where the results are most promising.

Excellent boards balance cost-benefit ratios with Henry Blackaby’s classic aspiration, “Find out what God is doing and then join Him.”

When CEOs and board chairs observe that their board members are micro-managing, they stop and ask if it’s because the board has failed to affirm three to five annual “S.M.A.R.T.” goals for the CEO (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-related). Or, if the goals are in writing (and in the minutes), perhaps the CEO is not reporting goal progress in monthly or quarterly reports.

For the Christ-centered board, a focus on S.M.A.R.T. goals and dashboard reports (including one for customer satisfaction) also becomes a focus on prayer. An occasional email from a board member to the CEO (“How can I pray more effectively about your five annual goals this month?”) will bless the socks off any CEO!

QUESTION: Facilitate an around-the-board-table quick response exercise to this question, “Are we appropriately affirming, monitoring, and assessing our ministry’s programs, products, and services? If not, what should we change in the next 30 days?"

Thursday, September 10, 2015

The Gold Standard Question for Board Members

This week I’m conducting one-on-one phone interviews with nine board members who serve together on a ministry board. Here’s my favorite question:

“You’re driving away from a ‘typical’ board meeting (or sharing the experience with a friend or family member), and you say, ‘THAT WAS A GREAT BOARD MEETING TODAY!’ Tell me, what happened at the board meeting to provoke that positive response?

I call this my Gold Standard Question because the responses are always immediately indicative of a board member’s satisfaction level with his or her board experience.

Over the years, when I ask this question, board members with unsatisfactory experiences often respond:
• “No one asked me for advice, wisdom, counsel or ideas.”
• “The staff read the reports that all of us had read in advance.”
• “Boring. Routine. Pure agony.”
• “Clearly, I’m not needed at the board table. The CEO did all the talking.”
• “There was no sense of the holy, except the perfunctory bookend prayers.”

Conversely—here’s what highly committed, deeply engaged, thrilled-to-be-serving board members tell me:
• “Everyone’s prepared. Everyone participates. Everyone prays. It’s the best board I have ever served on!”
• “It happens all the time! We’ve deleted the petty stuff and focus on the important agenda items only. And…we’re on target financially.”

One board member outlined four primary ingredients of memorable board meetings:
1. There is deep joy—consistently in every meeting.
2. The board is focused on strategic issues.
3. Energetic discussions abound! “We’re not looking for agreement—we’re looking for insight. Spiritual insight.”
4. There is solidarity. “We foster a board culture that eliminates the unhealthy giving up of personal beliefs for the sake of unity. Instead, we wait for the Spirit of God to speak.”

Wow! I pray that your board has frequent moments of the above and that when board members drive or fly home, their post-meeting evaluation is joy-filled!

QUESTION FOR YOUR NEXT BOARD MEETING: “Before we start this meeting, we’ll ask every board member to think back and tell us about a GREAT board meeting you attended—and why it was so memorable.”

Monday, August 31, 2015

Board Meetings on Holy Ground

The next time you set the table for your board meeting, set the ground also. The gospel song, “We Are Standing on Holy Ground,” by Geron La Ray Davis, is a powerful anthem to remind board members of our Kingdom roles and responsibilities.

“When I walked through the doors I sensed His presence
And I knew this was a place where love abounds
For this is a temple, the God we love abides here
Oh, we are standing in His presence on holy ground.”

I’ve been reflecting recently on the power of location. Whenever and wherever our boards meet, we’re on holy ground. God’s presence is promised. We can respond to, or ignore, the nudges of the Holy Spirit. Or we can keep one eye on our agendas, and the other eye on our smart phones. Holy ground? Where?

Good news! Many board chairs and CEOs leverage their creativity gifts to create space at board meetings so God’s love and direction abounds. Yet for others, sadly, too often the practical and pragmatic crowds out the holy.

To refocus and leverage the wonder of holy ground, consider a different location for at least one board meeting a year. For example:
   • A CEO friend arranged for a board meeting at an architect’s office. The beauty, the creativity, and the innovative use of space elevated the thinking, the camaraderie, and the praying at this unique meeting location.
    • A board chair asked a ministry partner to host a board meeting—and routine reports took on new meaning as they experienced God stories in person at this ministry to the poor.
   • I facilitated a mission agency’s board retreat on a Christian university campus. Interaction with students and profs in the dining commons was a highlight for many board members.
   • Another CEO friend recently reserved space for a board meeting at a knock-your-socks-off international exhibit, currently under construction. I’ve heard about it—and it will inspire board members to elevate their Kingdom thinking!

This month, a ministry board “took me out to the ballgame” where a meeting room was reserved for a two-hour board meeting prior to the Houston Astros’ no-hitter drubbing of the Los Angeles Dodgers. That too, I’ll reluctantly admit, was holy ground—as Christ-centered board members and their spouses enjoyed nine innings of high touch relational time. 

Matthew 18 in The Message is the holy ground promise: “When two of you get together on anything at all on earth and make a prayer of it, my Father in heaven goes into action. And when two or three of you are together because of me, you can be sure that I’ll be there.”

QUESTION: What would change in your next board meeting if every board member understood the theology of location—that we are standing on holy ground?

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The One-Minute Board Member

“How do we think more generatively?”
was the question that Mike Pate, executive director of camping for Transformation Ministries, asked at a board retreat recently. As the retreat facilitator, Mike noted insights from Bill Ryan, co-author of Governance as Leadership: Reframing the Work of Nonprofit Boards.

Ryan comments, “Good governance is not just about doing work better; it’s about ensuring your organization does better work.”

Mike noted four proactive next steps from his study of generative governance:
• Carve out more time and space in board meetings to wrestle with issues that matter most.
• Spend more time in reflecting on “overall” situations facing your organization…consider the whole picture.
• Practice the “one-minute longer” exercise. “If this meeting could go on for one minute longer, what would you want to talk about?”
• Look outside your industry regularly. “What other developments in different industries might impact ours next?”

All four points are worthy of more reflection (and blog posts)—but the “one-minute longer” challenge got my governance juices going.

At the end of each board meeting, Ryan suggests you jot down anything else you might have said—had the conversation continued. Then hand your thoughts to the board chair as a possible topic for your next board meeting.

Great idea! But let me suggest a 10-minute exercise before the gavel hammers away all creativity.

Board chairs: At your next meeting, hold the gavel in your hand and announce this:

“Before we adjourn, for the next 60 seconds, turn to the person next to you and share your answer to this question: “If this meeting could go on for just nine minutes longer, what would you want to talk about?” I’ll take suggestions from each team of two—and I’ll pick one topic for a final nine-minute discussion. Then…we’ll discuss, pray, and adjourn.”

Ephesians 5 (The Message) reminds us: “Don’t waste your time on useless work, mere busywork, the barren pursuits of darkness . . . So watch your step. Use your head. Make the most of every chance you get. These are desperate times!”

I can hardly wait to try this at my next board meeting!

QUESTION: What wisdom or question would you have added with an extra 60 seconds at your last board meeting?

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Range of Normalcy: Where’s Your Board?

Recently in a board enrichment session, the CEO punctuated most topics with this question: “So, John, where is our board on the range of normalcy?”

I love that phrase—“the range of normalcy.”

Today I googled it and found more ammo for future enrichment sessions. Here are two definitions and more commentary:

“Normalcy: being within certain limits that define the range of normal functioning”
• A related word: “Averageness: the state of being that is average; indicates normality but with connotations of mediocrity”

“Normalcy: expectedness as a consequence of being usual or regular or common”
• A related word: “Expectedness: ordinariness as a consequence of being expected and not surprising”

Three Thoughts:

#1. “Normal” Might Be a Low Bar. I certainly understand the desire for a board’s work to fall somewhere within the “range of normalcy.” Yet, if normalcy becomes averageness—and that carries a whiff of mediocrity—then normal could be a very low standard.  

Example: In the ECFA 3rd Annual Nonprofit Governance Survey, just under 31% of board members said “Yes” or “Probably Yes” that their boards were well prepared to name their next CEO.  If you landed on the “normal side” with the other 69%, that’s not a good thing!  The survey revealed that the majority of boards do NOT have an effective succession plan in place. It’s normal, but not wise.

#2. Watch for Signs of Mediocrity. Several years ago, a board member cornered me at every meal and coffee break at a board retreat. His comment/question: “I think we’re a pretty good board. But how would you evaluate us?”

He was fishing for compliments—and I resisted.  Finally, at the last snack break I told him. “You are a pretty good board. Maybe in the top ten percent of all ministry boards—but this will shock you—you could be even more effective as a board. And if you’re diligent about moving forward, the improvements will surprise you. Don’t rest on your laurels. You’re not there yet.”

Jim Collins, author of Good to Great and the Social Sectors, adds this: “The moment you think of yourself as great, your slide toward mediocrity will have already begun.”

#3. Know the Difference Between Human Standards and Heaven’s Standards. You already understand my third point and if you’re read the powerful book, The Choice: The Christ-Centered Pursuit of Kingdom Outcomes, you know that our board work is measured by eternal metrics, not earthly metrics.

So…yes, it’s good to know the “range of normalcy,” but I really love the standard used by Holy Trinity Brompton, the London church that launched the Alpha course. Nicky Gumbel, Holy Trinity’s vicar, says they
“aim for perfection
but settle for excellence.”

QUESTION: How does your board measure its work and effectiveness?

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

More Annoying Boardroom Habits: Part 2 of 2

In Part 1 of 2, we mentioned several annoying boardroom habits—from the list in the convicting book, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There: Discover the 20 Workplace Habits You Need to Break, by Marshall Goldsmith with Mark Reiter.

Here are several more:
#9. Withholding information: The refusal to share information in order to maintain an advantage over others.
#12. Making excuses: The need to reposition our annoying behavior as a permanent fixture so people excuse us for it.
#14. Playing favorites.
#16. Not listening: The most passive-aggressive form of disrespect for colleagues.
#18. Punishing the messenger.
#20. An excessive need to be “me”: Exalting our faults as virtues simply because they’re who we are.

There are another 10—equally convicting for some of us.  But here’s the good news: Goldsmith says that these faults are simple to correct. Yet there’s bad news:
“The higher you go [in your career],
the more your problems are behavioral.”

If you’re gutsy enough to read this, you will not get to page 223 unscathed. If you read with a pen, like I do, you’ll have few unmarked pages. As a bonus along the way, the leadership wisdom oozes out:

--Why not listening sends an “Armada of Negative Messages” (page 86) and three things all good listeners do (page 147). Goldsmith says “80 percent of our success in learning from other people is based upon how well we listen.”

--One big reminder about people styles: “You are not managing you” (page 208).

--Why the most successful CEOs and senior leaders often have the best personal assistants (page 196).

--Why people’s common sense gets fuzzy and opaque—when you’re talking about interpersonal behavior, and why leaders often choose the wrong thing to fix (the easy one, not the glaring one). See Goldsmith’s seven rules on the change process, including “Rule 1: You Might Not Have a Disease That Behavioral Change Can Cure” (chapter 13).

--Why you must say “Thank You” when receiving requested feedback—and then stop. Say no more. Nada! (Chapter 11: Following Up and Chapter 12: Practicing Feedforward)

As a Christ-follower, I have one caveat to the book. There is a spiritual dimension missing, as is common in many business/leadership books. For the Christian, behavioral change is a mandate, but we’re not dependent on only bootstrap discipline and frank feedback. Made in the image of God, we can understand and implement real change only from a theological, biblical worldview. It’s not either/or, it’s both. (If I could thoughtfully integrate the practicality of this book with the deep spiritual context of some of my favorite business books, then, wow, that would be the perfect balance.)

Two additional notes: First, Chapter 12, Special Challenges for People in Charge, encourages leaders to write a document: “Memo to Staff: How to Handle Me.” If written with humility and transparency, it’s a brilliant, brilliant tool.
Perhaps—if done well—your CEO and board chair
could trade memos with each other.

Second, the appendix features a “Global Leadership Inventory” that can be used as a 360-feedback assessment. Respondents are asked to rate their leaders on a five-point scale from Highly Satisfied to Highly Dissatisfied. (Example: #44: “Asks people what he/she can do to improve.”) This is worth the price of the book.

QUESTION: How well does your board leverage the strengths of board members—while not putting their heads in the sand when annoying habits disrupt the governance process?

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

More Annoying Boardroom Habits: Part 1 of 2

Good news: a client gave me a terrific book.  

Bad news: a client gave me this book!
   • What Got You Here Won’t Get You There: Discover the 20 Workplace Habits You Need to Break, by Marshall Goldsmith with Mark Reiter (read my review)

And wow…this is one powerful, convicting book. Bestselling author Marshall Goldsmith says there are 20 workplace habits you need to break. He quotes Peter Drucker:
“We spend a lot of time teaching leaders what to do.
We don’t spend enough time teaching leaders what to stop. Half the leaders I have met don’t need to learn what to do.
They need to learn what to stop.”

Goldsmith agrees and then asks, “When was the last retreat or training session you attended that was titled, Stupid Things Our Top People Do That We Need to Stop Doing Now?

Mega-Warning!  The author—called the World’s #1 Leadership Thinker (pretty good branding)—says the problem for leaders is “not deep-seated neuroses that require years of therapy or tons of medication to erase. More often than not, they are simple behavioral tics—bad habits that we repeat dozens of times a day in the workplace—which can be cured by (a) pointing them out, (b) showing the havoc they cause among the people surrounding us, and (c) demonstrating that with a slight behavioral tweak we can achieve a much more appealing effect.”

Perceptively, Goldsmith identifies co-workers, bosses, volunteers and board members you know: “people who do one annoying thing repeatedly on the job—and don’t realize that this small flaw may sabotage their otherwise golden career.  And, worse, they do not realize that (a) it’s happening and (b) they can fix it.” 

(Okay—admit it. You’re thinking of a board member colleague right now!)

But here’s his asteroid-size attention-getter: smart, successful people are pitifully blind to their own tics. (If you agree, then insert your own Big Gulp here.)

The author says that the faulty behavior that messes up the workplace, the boardroom (and your home) is not due to flaws of skill, intelligence or personality. “What we’re dealing with here are challenges in interpersonal behavior, often leadership behavior.
They are the egregious everyday annoyances that make your workplace [and boardroom] substantially more noxious than it needs to be.  
They don’t happen in a vacuum. They are transactional flaws performed by one person against others.”

The 20 Workplace Habits You Need to Break include:
#1. Winning too much.
#2. Adding too much value: The overwhelming desire to add our two cents to every discussion.
#3. Passing judgment.
#5. Starting with “No,” But,” or “However.” The overuse of these negative qualifiers which secretly says to everyone, “I’m right. You’re wrong.”

There are more—and we’ll mention several in Part 2 of 2.

For today, though, here are two questions:
• What is the protocol in your boardroom for addressing these issues?
• What is your plan for addressing your own annoying habits? (Reminder: we’re blind to our own blindness.)

Psalm 139:23-24 (The Message) is helpful:
"Investigate my life, O God,
    find out everything about me;
Cross-examine and test me,
    get a clear picture of what I’m about;
See for yourself whether I’ve done anything wrong—
    then guide me on the road to eternal life." 

QUESTION: Do you have a board colleague you trust enough to ask, “What are some of my annoying boardroom habits?”