Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Equip Your Board Members: Indexes to Inspiration

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alexander MacLaren

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

LOL! The ONE Thing You Must Do in 2021!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Thank You. Thank You. Thank You!

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, October 31, 2020

7 Reasons You Must EXIT an Under-Performing Board Member

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Break the Script!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

DEAR JOHN: Books, Board Chairs, and Boredom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(David McKenna in Call of the Chair)

Monday, September 14, 2020

“Where Was the Board?” A Board Ambassador BHAG

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 24, 2020

Is Your Vision Stuck on One Strategy?

It’s highly likely, during these COVID-19 days, that your ministry’s mission and vision are being tested. Here are two book recommendations with insights on vision, mission, and strategy.

Is your vision statement or your mission statement stuck on just one strategy? Has COVID-19 decimated that strategy? In his 2020 book, The Vision Driven Leader: 10 Questions to Focus Your Efforts, Energize Your Team, and Scale Your Business, Michael Hyatt writes. “A practical vision is specific enough to suggest strategy, but not so specific it commits you to one particular strategy.” Are you stuck on a sacred cow-type strategy? 

Hyatt asks 10 questions about vision—and his book (read my review) dramatically changed my thinking about the importance of vision. I was a mission statement zealot. Vision was important, yes, but it’s the mission that gets you from Point A to Point B—or so I thought. The vision is focused on “what, not how,” says Hyatt. Both are important, of course, but maybe it’s time your board takes a second look at your foundational assumptions on vision, mission, strategy, and core values?

How would your board and CEO answer Hyatt’s 10 questions?
   1. Are You a Leader or a Manager?
   2. What Difference Does Vision Make?
   3. What Do You Want?
   4. Is It Clear?
   5. Does It Inspire?
   6. Is It Practical?
   7. Can You Sell It?
   8. How Should You Face Resistance?
   9. Is It Too Late?
 10. Are You Ready?

The author lists four characteristics of a vision that inspires: 
   1) The vision focuses on what isn’t, not what is.
   2) The vision is exponential, not incremental.
   3) The vision is risky, not stupid.
   4) The vision is focused on what, not how.

In April, when COVID-19 sent us dashing to our bunkers, I posted a Pop Quiz here, “Top-5 Ways to Bless Your Ministry.” The second suggestion was to “Help Our CEO Discern ‘The One Thing.’” I suggested you call or email your CEO with this insight and offer to have a conversation about his or her “ONE Thing:”

"What's the ONE Thing you can do this week
such that by doing it
everything else would be easier or unnecessary?"

Perhaps, for the board, your ONE Thing, now in August, is to read Hyatt’s important book—and revisit your vision. And while you’re delegating your reading, let me recommend that at least one person on your board also reads The Longview: Lasting Strategies for Rising Leaders, by Roger Parrott. (Read my review here.)

With in-the-trenches insights as president of Belhaven College and broad experience with evangelicals, Parrott’s chapter, “Planning Will Drain the Life from Your Ministry,” is an insightful counter-balance to much of the vision/mission rhetoric. His prophetic book in 2009 speaks into 2020 when he notes that both the optimistic and the pessimistic view of the future (which is unknowable) can create havoc. Of the latter, he writes, “…or you raise fears instead of funds by basing your plans on less rosy assumptions that reflect the uncertainties of tomorrow.”

Parrott’s final chapter is another must-read, “Catching the Wind of God.” He begins, “I am convinced one of the core problems of evangelical leaders is that too often we’ve stopped trying to catch the wind of God in our sails because we’ve become fairly effective at creating our own independent power to get God’s work done.”

BOARD DISCUSSION: So…who will read and report on these two books at our next Zoom board meeting?

MORE RESOURCES: Click here to read David Schmidt’s guest blog on Lesson 37, “Don’t Stretch Credulity With BHAGs and Stretch Goals. The actual achievement of audacious goals is very uncommon.” This is one of 40 color commentaries from the book, Lessons From the Nonprofit Boardroom. Schmidt writes, “Always—we must test motives and drivers when setting goals. Pride and fear can easily disguise themselves as bold leadership.” Click here to read the chapter online.

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Index to Ram Charan’s 14 Questions + 3 Next Steps

Is Your Board Owning Up?

Over the last 14 weeks, I’ve highlighted the insights and wisdom from Ram Charan’s practical book for board members, Owning Up. While the book is written for corporate for-profit boards, nonprofit ministry board members will also find the book extremely insightful. During these COVID-19 months, I pray your board will be diligent and faithful in reflecting on and acting on these 14 questions.

And see below for a way to leverage these questions in the boardroom, at a board retreat, or even in a virtual board meeting using the “10 Minutes for Governance” exercise.

INDEX TO 14 BLOGS: Owning Up: The 14 Questions Every Board Member Needs to Ask, by Ram Charan (Order from Amazon)

Click on the links below to read the blogs for each of the 14 chapters in Owning Up:

[  ] Question 1: Is Our Board Composition Right for the Challenge?
[  ] Question 2: Are We Addressing the Risks That Could Send Our Company Over the Cliff?
[  ] Question 3: Are We Prepared to Do Our Job Well When a Crisis Erupts?
[  ] Question 4: Are We Well Prepared to Name Our Next CEO?
[  ] Question 5: Does Our Board Really Own the Company’s Strategy?
[  ] Question 6: How Can We Get the Information We Need to Govern Well?
[  ] Question 7: How Can Our Board Get CEO Compensation Right?
[  ] Question 8: Why Do We Need a Lead Director Anyway?
[  ] Question 9: Is Our Governance Committee Best of Breed?
[  ] Question 10: How Do We Get the Most Value Out of Our Limited Time?
[  ] Question 11: How Can Executive Sessions Help the Board Own Up?
[  ] Question 12: How Can Our Board Self-Evaluation Improve Our Functioning and Our Output?
[  ] Question 13: How Do We Stop From Micromanaging?
[  ] Question 14: How Prepared Are We to Work With Activist Shareholders and Their Proxies?
Here are three ideas for inspiring more lifelong learning with your board (and how to continue the learning from Owning Up):

IDEA #1: Appoint a “Leaders Are Readers Champion.” Click here to read the four-page chapter, Lesson 38, “Great Boards Delegate Their Reading” in Lessons From the Nonprofit Boardroom. Click here to read Kent Stroman’s blog on this lesson. He quotes the U.S. Navy Seals, “Under pressure you don't rise to the occasion, you sink to the level of your training. That's why we train so hard.”

IDEA #2: Ten Minutes for Governance. Many boards are featuring a “10 Minutes for Governance” segment at every board meeting—to keep lifelong governance learning on the front burner. Rotate the leadership among your board members and assign a relevant chapter for your next board meeting. The board member/facilitator can present five minutes of content and then ask the board (in groups of two or three) to discuss a key question for five minutes.

Click here to read the four-page chapter, Lesson 39, “Invest ‘10 Minutes for Governance’ in Every Board Meeting” in Lessons From the Nonprofit Boardroom. Click here to read guest blogger John Walling’s color commentary. He quotes Richard Kriegbaum: “Leadership is a complex field and no one resource can meet all the needs of every leader in every situation.”

IDEA #3: Board Retreat Worksheet. At your next board retreat, select five or six key chapters from Owning Up and assign board members to each question. Provide a “Read-and-Reflect Worksheet” template for Owning Up or another governance book of your choosing. 

Board retreat templates for six governance books are included in “Tool #13: Board Retreat Read-and-Reflect Worksheets” (one of 22 tools) in ECFA Tools and Templates for Effective Board Governance: Time-Saving Solutions for Your Board. To order the book, or to read more about this tool, click here for the blog post on Tool #13.

Bottom Line: Is your board “owning up” to its God-given responsibilities as stewards of your ministry?

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

QUESTION 14: How Prepared Are We to Work With Activists?

The $500,000 Restricted Gift, the Hospital, and the Jury

Ram Charan’s final chapter in Owning Up addresses the challenging issues faced by for-profit public companies. You’ll be tempted to skip this chapter (since nonprofit ministries do not have shareholders). 

But—your ministry does have stakeholders—so don’t miss the wisdom on how to communicate with any “activist” or social media eruption.

Charan writes, “Bloggers search through the footnotes of SEC filings. Seventy-eight-year-old women with no corporate leadership experience file shareholder proxies and end up interviewed on business channels.” 

Warning, he says: “Your performance as a board will increasingly be scrutinized, as much as the [organization’s] performance.”

QUESTION 14 of 14: How Prepared Are We to Work With Activist Shareholders and Their Proxies? Owning Up: The 14 Questions Every Board Member Needs to Ask, by Ram Charan (Order from Amazon)

Finally! We’re in the last chapter of this important book. (Watch for the index and summary in my next blog.) In this blog, I’m taking liberties with the for-profit topic—to address just one of many related topics for nonprofits. Let’s call them activist or dissatisfied donors.

In his powerful book, Trust: The Firm Foundation for Kingdom Fruitfulness, Dan Busby says that “We ignore perceptions at our peril.” His short chapter on “Perceptions” includes “Ten Major Issues Can Lead to Misperceptions.” (The list: compensation, fringe benefits, intellectual properties, family members paid by the ministry, related-party transactions, and five more.)

Is your board proactively discussing these 10 major issues—or will you be unprepared when a ministry issue (fake news or not) hits the fan and/or the internet? 

Busby quotes Harvey McKinnon:
“Donor loyalty is not about the donor being loyal to you; 
it is you being loyal to the donor.”

Being proactive means your board will have policies and practices that will give confidence to givers that restricted gifts will, in fact, be restricted for the specified use. In the absence of trust, “activist” stakeholders and donors can and will sound the alarm—often inappropriately.

Ram Charan’s chapter includes several examples of activists and he lists the affected companies, by name. Some handled the issues with wisdom—and a few didn’t. He gives “four pieces of advice” for boards when “activist investors come calling.” While no Scripture is cited, you’ll find Jesus’ principles in his recommendations.

Likewise, Busby includes an “activist” true story in Trust—and he adds the Scripture (2 Cor. 8:14-25) in the chapter, “Honoring Giver Intent.” He also shares the true story of a hospital in Oklahoma that received a $500,000 gift from Troyal G. Brooks in 2005. The giver’s intent was to honor his mother by naming a new facility after her. In 2008, the hospital reneged on the agreement and planned to use the funds for another project—so Brooks sued the hospital.

Busby writes, “…the agreement with the hospital was oral; therefore, the jury had to determine who was telling the truth. In 2012, a jury awarded Troyal the $500,000 gift back plus the maximum in punitive damages—$500,000.” He adds, “Troyal is better known as Troyal G. (Garth) Brooks. Ironically, the hospital is located on Garth Brooks Way.” Yikes!

Ram Charan writes, “Every shareholder matters.” Dan Busby would add, “Every giver matters—and trust is the firm foundation for Kingdom fruitfulness.” 

BOARDROOM DISCUSSION: Dan Busby quotes Max De Pree: “When things go awry, trust powers the generators until the problem is fixed.” Here’s an agenda item for your next meeting: “How Prepared Are We to Work With Activist or Dissatisfied Donors?”


• READ: Lesson 22, “Whopper Mistakes Can Unravel Your Ministry,” in More Lessons From the Nonprofit Boardroom. (Click here to read the four-page chapter.) See especially “Whopper Mistake #3: Failure to provide accountability for restricted gifts.” Click here to read Kecia Klob’s color commentary, including this from Max De Pree: “The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality.”

• READ: Lesson 31, “Where Two or Three Are Gathered on Social Media…” in More Lessons From the Nonprofit Boardroom. While this lesson is focused on conflicts of interest, it’s a timely reminder that you’re just one click away from a social media firestorm. (Click here to read the four-page chapter.) 

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

QUESTION 13: How Do We Stop From Micromanaging?

The WORST Thing to Happen to a Board!

We all agree—board members should not micromanage the ministry. But think more deeply about this. Ram Charan writes:

“The worst thing to happen to a board is when the CEO and the management team lose respect for the board.”

Don’t skip this chapter—because at the root of lost respect is often a micromanaging board! 

QUESTION 13 of 14: How Do We Stop From Micromanaging? Owning Up: The 14 Questions Every Board Member Needs to Ask, by Ram Charan (Order from Amazon)

“A common complaint among chief executives,” writes Charan, is that board members “get into the weeds, digging into operational details that have little strategic value.” The problem: one board member inappropriately weighs in on a tasty topic—others join in on the fun—“and for the rest of the meeting the discussion never lifts to a higher altitude.”

There are numerous solutions for mitigating micromanagers, but it takes a savvy board chair, a grace-giving CEO, and other board members with self-awareness and high EQ (read my review of Emotional Intelligence 2.0).

Charan delivers more than a dozen insights on addressing the micromanaging board member. I appreciated these four take-aways:

1. Pause the PowerPoint. Sometimes, management may contribute to the problem by “providing too many slides and unnecessary details.”

2. Ask Quality Questions. “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.” (I often recommend the book, The Coaching Habit, which lists seven types of questions, including “The AWE Question: And What Else?)

3. Hint With Humor. Ram Charan notes that not all board members are self-aware, so the board chair (or Lead Director on many for-profit boards) must step up to the plate. Example: When a board member “started badgering a company’s IT director about its systems, the board’s Lead Director stepped in and joked, ‘Hey (Joe), are you looking for a job in IT?’ The tone was collegial and humorous, but the director got the point.” (Click here to read how Rich Stearns addressed micromanaging board members at World Vision U.S.)

4. Monitor 12-Month Metrics. “It also helps when the board has agreed upon the twelve-month priorities, and is clear about the strategy and the milestones.” A dashboard “also helps board members stay on point.”

Boards expect CEOs to be excellent at delegation—but boards must also model a delegation culture. Healthy boards delegate to their CEOs. Unhealthy boards micromanage. “Delegation” is one of 30 short prayers in the little book by Richard Kriegbaum, Leadership Prayers. While every CEO should pray this prayer—this stunning and sobering prayer can also by prayed by board members:

“Help me to be clear about the distant goals and about who needs to do what to reach those goals. When I do this well, the spirit of the one to whom I delegate will respond with zeal. My own spirit will rejoice, and I will follow that person with confidence.

“By your grace, my leadership will either enhance or restrain the work of your Spirit in those who lead me, making them more effective or less effective. Those I chose to follow will have a profound impact on the results in the organization, and they will have a profound impact on me.”

Ram Charan writes: “The worst thing to happen to a board is when the CEO and the management team lose respect for the board.” Maybe the best thing to happen to a board is when the board selects the right CEO—and then trusts their CEO.

BOARDROOM DISCUSSION: Think back to the last time a board member was meandering into micromanagement mode. Did your board chair step up to the plate and address it appropriately? Are you ready for the next time it happens? 


• READ: Lesson 20, “Apply for a Staff Position and You Can Deal With That Issue! Help board members not to cross the line into operational details,” in Lessons From the Nonprofit Boardroom. (Click here to read the four-page chapter.) In his color commentary on this lesson, Richard Stearns writes, “Your board likely comprises professionals at the top of their fields, so it’s natural that they’re curious and opinionated about details in their realm of expertise. But just because they can wade into operational minutiae doesn’t mean they should. That’s not what a board of directors is designed to do.” (Click here to read the blog.)

• TOOL: Need a dashboard template for tracking CEO annual goals? Check out “Tool #11: Monthly Dashboard Report” in ECFA Tools and Templates for Effective Board Governance: Time-Saving Solutions for Your Board. (Read more here.)

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

QUESTION 12: How Can Our Board Self-Evaluation Improve Our Functioning and Our Output?

“The Acid Test of Effective Corporate Governance”

A board member, clearly proud that he had invested 250 hours on board work the previous year, told Ram Charan, “We put in a lot of hard work.”

But Charan, wisely, pushed past the rhetoric and non-measurable metrics—and instead—threw him this zinger: “Let me ask you something. What would you say are the one or two things your board did that really made a difference for the [organization]?”

You guessed it. The board member “…took a long pause and looked up at the ceiling. He seemed lost in thought, like he was struggling to come up with a concrete answer. As I waited for him to respond, I realized that he probably had never thought about his board work in that way.”

QUESTION 12 of 14: How Can Our Board Self-Evaluation Improve Our Functioning and Our Output? Owning Up: The 14 Questions Every Board Member Needs to Ask, by Ram Charan (Order from Amazon)

Board members “should not confuse hard work, as commendable as it is, with meaningful results,” writes Ram Charan. That insight is just on the first of 14 wisdom-packed pages in Chapter 12 on the critical need for boards to conduct self-evaluations.

Charan adds, “The board’s output—the quality of the decisions it makes and actions it takes—is the acid test of effective corporate governance.”

Don’t confuse inputs (meeting frequency, meeting length, etc.) with outputs. Boards should “explicitly state that the central purpose of their board self-evaluation process is to continuously improve their ability to govern effectively.”

Peter Drucker agrees: 
“Self-assessment can and should convert good intentions and knowledge into effective action—not next year but tomorrow morning.”

The Drucker quote is from the robust 30-page resource, “Tool #5: The Board’s Annual Self-Assessment Survey,” in ECFA Tools and Templates for Effective Board Governance: Time-Saving Solutions for Your Board. According to ECFA’s research (see page 32), 31% of board members said YES to this question: “In the last two years, have you had an outside person help your board look in the mirror to do self-assessment for how it could improve?”

Tool #5 gives you multiple options in three major sections:
• Section 1: Do-It-Yourself
• Section 2: Facilitated by a Consultant or Board Coach
• Section 3: Template: “Best Governance Practices” Survey

If you opt for the Do-It-Yourself approach, Tool #5 gives you seven options, including this free assessment from ECFA:

CLICK HERE to complete the NonprofitBoardScore™, a tool developed by ECFA. The online survey will give you instant feedback and allow you to re-take the evaluation over and over (perhaps every six months or at least annually). Email the link to everyone on your board—and encourage each board member to save and print the results for discussion (and action!) at your next board meeting. 

READY FOR CANDOR? If you have a healthy board—competent in Governance 101 practices—and you’re ready for a challenge, ask your Governance Committee (or Executive Committee) to consider peer evaluations at least once a year. Very common in for-profit governance, peer evaluations are very uncommon within nonprofit ministry boards. Read Ram Charan’s suggestions in Chapter 12 first—and then discern if your board is ready to go deeper.

According to the Harvard Business Review article, “What Makes Great Boards Great,” by Jeffrey A. Sonnenfeld, it is the soft side of board governance that distinguishes high quality boards from the rest of the governance rat race. He labels it a “virtuous cycle of respect, trust and candor”—but, he warns, even that can be broken at any point. For your first peer review, perhaps ask a board coach to help you set the guardrails.

To paraphrase Proverbs 9:7, “Teach a wise board member, and he or she will be the wiser; teach a good board member, and he or she will learn more.” 

BOARDROOM DISCUSSION: What do we want to learn from our next board self-evaluation? Ram Charan writes that board members “should not confuse hard work, as commendable as it is, with meaningful results.” What are the one or two things our board has done in the last six months that has really made a difference for the ministry?


• READ: Lesson 1, “Wanted: Lifelong Learners. Would you trust a surgeon who stopped learning?” in Lessons From the Nonprofit Boardroom. (Click here to read the four-page chapter.) In his color commentary on this lesson, Ralph E. Enlow, Jr., writes, “I find that the fatal combination of passivity and agenda clutter conspires to crowd out efforts to walk the talk of continuous board development.” (Read the blog.)

• TOOL: With 30 pages and more than a dozen self-assessment options, check out “Tool #5: The Board’s Annual Self-Assessment Survey,” in ECFA Tools and Templates for Effective Board Governance: Time-Saving Solutions for Your Board. (Read more here.)