From category archives: In Trust Blog

Boards

   
                

Your top strategic issues

           
         

When your board meets, how much time do you spend focusing on strategic issues facing your school? If the answer is less than half of the meeting time, then your board is like many others. 

   

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The cost of free speech

           
         

Freedom of speech is a big deal on university campuses these days. A recent spate of decisions by university administrators to permit (or forbid) various speakers to make speeches on campus has generated newsworthy controversy. Invariably, free-speech advocates argue that a university is a place for learning, critical thinking, and critical listening. Silencing an offensive viewpoint.

   

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Difficult but necessary decisions

           
         

“The board has to insist on financial sustainability.” Lee Merritt, retired vice president for finance at Fuller Theological Seminary, sees this obligation as one of the most essential responsibilities of any school’s governing board.

 

   

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Tending shared governance

           
         

“Effective shared governance is hard work.” That’s how a new article focusing on shared governance in this month’s Trusteeship magazine begins. This is no surprise to anyone familiar with the practice of shared governance, but it’s certainly nice to read the words and appreciate that others struggle with the practice too.

   

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Undermining your president

           
         

In the final scene of Pixar’s The Incredibles (2004), a drilling machine bursts through the street and a mole-like man steps forward to address the screaming masses: “Behold, the Underminer! I'm always beneath you, but nothing is beneath me! I hereby declare war on peace and happiness! Soon, all will tremble before me!"

 

   

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Mastering the graceful exit

           
         

P. T. Barnum is credited with the saying, “Always leave them wanting more.” It’s good advice. When Douglass Lewis was asked why he was retiring as president of Wesley Theological Seminary, he replied with a similar idea. It was something his mother used to say: "You ought to leave the party while you're having a good time."

 

   

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The board's role in spiritual formation

           
         

Theological school boards are responsible for all aspects of the school they serve, including the spiritual formation of their students. But how can boards know for sure whether spiritual formation is being adequately addressed?

   

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Tools for board improvement

           
         

Do you have new (or existing) board members that require orientation? Interested in conducting an assessment of your board's efficacy? Feel as if your board could be communicating or collaborating better? 

   

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Help with the Carver Model of governance

           
         

Most authors, researchers, and support organizations agree that no one-size-fits-all template dictates how boards should function. Rather, governance gurus urge boards to shape the way they work to the contours of their specific organizations.

   

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Planning and imagination — or how to connect dreams and means

           
         

 

Effective strategic planning requires an active imagination — not because such effectiveness is hard to imagine but because we need to activate our imagination to plan effectively.

   

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The importance of the executive session

           
         

Executive sessions should be a regular agenda item for every board meeting. Are they at yours? If your board is like many others, perhaps your honest answer is no. Why have an executive session if no pressing issues need to be addressed?

   

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When it comes to development, the personal touch might just be the Midas touch

           
         




What can board members, who have a big role to play in development, do to make fundraising more productive and, dare we hope, less onerous?

   

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Embedded seminaries: How they thrive

           
         

An "embedded" theological school is a seminary or divinity school that is part of a college or university, as contrasted with a "freestanding" seminary, which is an independent graduate-level institution. Embedded schools face unique challenges, according to Mark Markuly, dean of the School of Theology and Ministry at Seattle University. One of these is that “you’re kind of off the grid in the ways people traditionally look at governance boards."


   

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Accreditation: What board members need to know

           
         


Some board members may think that accreditation is for the administrative office, but boards play an important role.

   

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Trustees seek change amid public scrutiny of higher education

           
         




According to a recent poll, more than half of trustees agreed that public perception of higher education has deteriorated in the United States over the last decade. They are not all in agreement, however, on the causes of and solution to this problem. 

   

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Innovation, innovation, innovation

           
         


Innovation is a buzzword for our current time. Everywhere you look, someone is writing about the need to be innovative, and organizations are bragging about how innovative they are.

   

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Anonymous donors: What’s a board to do?

           
         


For seminaries and theological institutions, how a school fulfills its mission is as important as its financial health. As such, issues of transparency and accountability should be considered when deciding whether to accept an anonymous donation.

   

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When board members go AWOL between meetings, try this

           
         


The complaint we hear more than any other from nonprofit execs and/or board chairs is this:

Board members disappear between meetings. Poof! They’re gone. Most can’t even be bothered to respond to my message with a one-word reply: “received.”

Sound familiar?

   

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Board members talk finances

           
         



In August 2009, In Trust emailed more than 1,800 board members (excluding board chairs) with a short survey on school finances. Of the board members contacted, 293 responded. In a summer 2010 article, Mary Catherine Bolster shared responses to this survey and offered her insights about what these responses said about the role of the board in financial matters. 

   

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Growing your next board chair

           
         


You may stumble onto a good, or even great, board chair by luck, but it’s not likely. Schools and other nonprofits typically get the chairs they have “grown,” but when there is no advance development, schools tend to get board chairs who are unprepared, untested, and weak. 

   

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Policies are powerful tools for effective governance

           
         



“Sometimes boards are the last to acknowledge that policy making is the environment in which they operate,” says Rebekah Burch Basinger in a Spring 2010 In Trust article. Nevertheless, boards rely on policies to govern their own work, as well as the work of their administration and organization. As such, having clearly defined, well-organized policies is essential for any board to function successfully.

   

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Caring for our leaders

           
         


How can you care for your school’s president or dean? You may think of things like benefits, salary, onboarding, and board support. But you're probably not thinking of yearly evaluation, contracts, or succession planning.

   

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Technological solutions for board collaboration

           
         



At your school, how do board members communicate between meetings? How are board documents relayed and important decisions made ahead of meetings? Is it sometimes challenging to collaborate with your board members, who are busy and scattered across the country (or globe)? If so, take heart -- there are technological solutions that may help.

   

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Board leadership for rainy days or sunny skies

           
         



During tough economic times, theological school boards may wonder what they should be doing to weather the storm. According to Rebekah Burch Basinger, the answer is “what you should have been doing all along.”

   

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Executive committees and governance

           
         


 

Executive committees can serve a useful purpose in board governance, but they have the potential to create division within a board. Executive committees, writes Rebekah Burch Basinger, can become overly powerful and cliquey, keeping all important decision making for themselves and expecting the board at large to approve any decisions they make. And that can cause trouble.

   

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