Issue No. 311 of Your Weekly Staff Meeting features mini-snippets on four governance books, along with the question: “How many board members does it take to change a light bulb?” And this reminder, check out my Management Buckets website with dozens of resources and downloadable worksheets for your staff meetings.
How Many Board Members Does It Take to Change a Light Bulb?
I’m frequently asked, “What governance book would you recommend we read before our next board and senior team retreat?”
My standard response is to ask a series of questions. What books have they read? Any new board members? Any stuck-in-a-rut board members? Do they need the basics on governance, or a kick-in-the-behind? Is it time for an inspirational book on decision-making and spiritual discernment? Are they readers or listeners? (Maybe a TED Talk?) Are they way too busy? Then maybe just a really, really skinny book—with big print and lots of white space? Faith-based or not?
One size doesn’t fit all. So in addition to the governance books I’ve reviewed in past issues (visit my Board Bucket webpage for 11 resources), here are mini-snippets from four books (several fairly new). Two ideas:
• Purchase all four books and ask four board members to give 5- to 10-minute reviews at your next board meeting or retreat.
• Or…delegate your reading to four board members and then, based on their feedback, select one book for the entire board to read.
[ ] OPTION #1: Serving as a Board Member: Practical Guidance for Directors of Christian Ministries, by John Pellowe (188 pages, Canadian Council of Christian Charities, 2012) - Order from Amazon.
In his foreword to this excellent book, Jim Brown, author of The Imperfect Board Member, notes “now it seems like ‘governance consultant’ is a pre-painted shingle that goes with every early-retirement, golden parachute check that gets handed out. The web is fraught with blogs and e-books on the topics of boards.”
Based on a seminar, and a DVD of the same title, the book is one of the best Christ-centered governance books available. Right from the get-go in the first chapter, “Readiness to Serve,” Pellowe speaks to the hearts of future board members about passion and calling:
• “If the ministry’s mission is not closely tied to your interests, your board service will be a draining experience…”
• “The Holy Spirit can nudge us towards those good works that God has prepared for us to do (Eph. 2:10); this nudging is usually described as a call.”
• “God’s individual call is normally in line with the gifts that you already have.”
And he’s just warming up on pages 4 and 5! He adds on page 7, “You really should be able to think theologically about the mission, governance, and leadership of the ministry you are serving. If you are new to the Christian faith, you may not yet be well enough equipped for board service in a Christian ministry.”
The book’s format is unique with the voices of other experts blended into sidebars. Pellowe, CEO of the Canadian Council of Christian Charities since 2003, sprinkles in his personal insights and stories (like his home church board meetings!) every few pages—fascinating stuff! Example: His story on page 126 on the “Bad” 3 Rs: boards that waste enormous amounts of time on “Reviewing, Rehashing and Redoing.”
It’s tough to pick just one favorite quotation or paragraph—but this grabbed me:
“You must be diligent as a director. Make sure that you ask any questions that are on your mind. As the saying goes, the only bad question is the one you had, but didn’t ask. You may think that since you have a banker on your board, you do not need to ask any financial questions because someone else is looking after that. It is your duty to ask these questions anyway. Do not rely on someone else to do your thinking.”
[ ] OPTION #2: Best Practices for Effective Boards, by E. LeBron Fairbanks, Dwight M. Gunter II, and James R. Cauchenour (191 pages, Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City, 2012) - Order from Amazon.
Total years of board leadership and board service for these three co-authors would rival almost any other trio. The best practices have been culled from 1) a lifetime of service as a denominational education commissioner (working with 54 educational institutions in 36 countries), 2) as a board chair and business leader, and 3) as a seasoned pastor/author and board member.
With almost 40 pages covering 11 documents in the appendix, you could skip the book and strike gold in every resource: “Leader Effectiveness Review Grid (22 leadership behaviors),” “Board Standing Policy Manual,” “Rules of the Road for Christlike Conflict Management,” and a “Board Survey” with 22 questions.
Can a book that articulates Christ-centered character standards for board members also meet the high bar of governance excellence? Yes! The guts of the book, 12 chapters, include helpful discussions on:
• “Ears In, Fingers Out” (great shorthand for the board role)
• “Take Time” (slowing decision-making down to hear from God)
• “Yes! to Missional Change” (choose your battles wisely)
• “Role Models of Generosity and Stewardship” (why board members must set the pace in generous giving and inspiring others to give)
In his chapter, “Yes! to Missional Change,” Pastor Dwight Gunter asks “How many Christians does it take to change a light bulb?” His answer: “Seven. One to change the bulb and six to resist the change.” (Insert “How many board members…” and it’s just as funny.)
Co-author LeBron Fairbanks, founding director of BoardServe.org, which serves as a global intervention and coaching resource for boards, shares my favorite quotation in the book—this from a CPA firm:
“In the long run, only integrity matters. In fact, without integrity, there will be no long run.”
[ ] OPTION #3: Board Essentials: 12 Best Practices of Nonprofit Boards, by David L. Coleman (109 pages, Andrew/Wallace Books, an imprint of BoardTrek Nonprofit Consulting, 2014) - Order from Amazon.
OK…here’s your skinny book. Coleman has culled from dozens of resources and produced 12 best practices—short chapters, long on practical tools and wisdom. Here’s a topical taste: mission, membership, definition of governance, board roles and responsibilities, the CEO’s role, the CEO and the board chair, board policies (“speak with one voice”), board meetings, fiduciary responsibilities, the board development committee—and much, much more.
Coleman, though he understands nonprofit life as a former foundation grantmaker and faith-based organization leader, has crafted this short-and-sweet book that works for both Christ-centered and secular boards. My favorite quotation in the book is a Peter Drucker keeper:
“The first task of the leader is to make sure that everyone sees the mission, hears it, lives it. If you lose sight of your mission, you begin to stumble and it shows very, very fast.”
[ ] OPTION #4: Ten Basic Responsibilities of Nonprofit Boards (Second Edition), by Richard T. Ingram (90 pages, BoardSource, 2008) - Order from Amazon.
The first title of six in BoardSource’s “Governance Series” delivers the generally agreed-upon list of the 10 roles and responsibilities of nonprofit board members. (Christ-centered boards will likely add one or two more.) The book includes an excellent 20-point self-assessment for board members, with probing questions like:
• “Are there ways in which your talents and interests can be more fully realized at or between board or committee meetings?”
• “Have you and the board taken steps to deal with real or apparent conflicts of interest in your board service?”
• “Which aspect of your service on the board has been the least satisfying and enjoyable?”
Ten Basic Responsibilities of Nonprofit Boards: The Companion Workbook (58 pages) is also available.
Favorite quotation (on 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.”
To order one or more of these governance books (or the Kindle versions) from Amazon, click on the graphics below:
Your Weekly Staff Meeting Questions:
1) What is the next book our board should read?
2) What is the next book our staff should read—that would help them clear up many of the myths and misunderstandings about the board’s role versus the staff’s role.
ECFA Announces Top 10 Governance Survey Highlights
Insights from Mastering the Management Buckets: 20 Critical Competencies for Leading Your Business or Nonprofit
There are a few surprises among the Top 10 Highlights from the hot-off-the-press executive summary of the ECFA 3rd Annual Nonprofit Governance Survey. It’s available as a download to ECFA-accredited organizations and subscribers. (Click here.)
Highlights include board giving, CEO succession, the gap between knowing and doing, operating reserves and measurable goals. Here’s Highlight #7:
“Over one-third of board members recognize they dip into tactical versus strategic issues always or frequently. Yet overall, CEOs and board members said several unhealthy boardroom habits are usually avoided in their board meetings and/or addressed by the board chair.” (Read the 62-page report for what to do about micro-managing board members.)
For more resources, including 11 book recommendations, visit the Board Bucket. (Note: Bob Andringa’s work on governance is a repeating theme through many of the books noted in this issue and on the Board Bucket webpage. He is at the front of the line in his willingness to share resources—often without due credit!)
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