Good Governance is NOT an Option

“All nonprofit boards have one thing in common. They do not work.”
~ Peter Drucker

I’m not sure I would be quite so pessimistic as Drucker when it comes to assessing the  effectiveness of nonprofit boards; however, I have observed enough ineffective boards to agree at the very least there is some major work to be done.  Sadly, Christian organizations and churches are not exempt and in fact are often the worst offenders.

It is out of a deep concern for those Christian organizations and especially the Church that I embark on this series of blogs.  My hope is to that by doing so I might stir some board member or potential board member to examining their role and how the board they serve on might fulfill their responsibilities more effectively.

John Carver, often considered the father of the “Good Governance Movement” said this of the state of governance:

“Because governance has rarely been the subject of rational design, boards persistently fall into trivia, short-term myopia, meddling in the staff work and other failings. They do so even when composed of intelligent, experienced, caring members. In North America, we have far beyond 5 million governing boards, each relying on the inadequate job design we have all inherited.”

My own personal experience of board dysfunction came when I was invited to serve on the Board of a local Christian Bible School and Seminary.  While I had in the past been part of a board, first as a pastor of a church and then on the board of a National Christian Organization, neither of those experiences prepared me for the journey I was about to undertake.

Perhaps I should have known I was going to be in for a rough ride when at the first meeting of our board retreat the organization’s legal counsel proceeded to explain our legal obligations? – they also explained our liabilities both corporate and personal.  I remember coming home and saying to my wife, “I just found out that as a board member I could get sued if the school ever went bankrupt, we could lose our house!” Stunned, she asked, “that would never happen would it?”

Eight months later the school filed for bankruptcy protection.

And one other thing: at the retreat – my very first retreat – I was elected vice-chair of the board.

Fortunately it doesn’t have to be this way. In the weeks ahead I will be addressing some of the following issues, in the hope that it will help change the way your board does business.

  • Boards are gatherings of effective people who become ineffective when gathered as a board.
  • Boards are an endurance test and a necessary evil.
  • Confusion of expectations.
  • Micromanagement at its worst or disengagement at its best.
  • The third layer of approval process for weary proposals and leaders.
  • Inconsistent decision-making.
  • Decisions do not flow from strategic ends or value base.
  • Adverse staff interference.
  • Too many agenda items, proposals, and participants.
  • Unclear lines of authority.
  • Ineffective and inefficient.
  • Inappropriate agenda.
  • Attitudes toward authority (deference to discernment) and the implications.
  • Corporate and ministry failures and the implications for governance.
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