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From category archives: In Trust Blog

Governance Best Practices

In Trust magazine -- New Year 2015 issue


In Trust's New Year 2015 issue was sent to subscribers last week. If you haven’t already received it, it should be arriving soon.

Meanwhile, here are some highlights:

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Personality types and problem board members



Recently, the Nonprofit Quarterly posted a classic article on how personality types affect boards. The article lists six “desirable qualities” in a board member, including “commitment,” “common sense and good judgment,” “respect for group process,” “centeredness,” “openness,” and “sense of humor.” But there’s also a helpful list of five kinds of board members who can derail the board’s work. They get nicknames: “Johnny One-Note” . . .

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For Halloween: The headless endeavor



For a couple years, the student garden club at my daughter’s elementary has been an amazing success. Nearly eighty students from grades 1–5 spent time after school last year to design, create, and maintain a stellar garden with flowers and vegetables. The local newspaper and television station came out several times to record the kids in action. Parents volunteered and businesses donated supplies and money. There was even a club song! And all of this was due to the efforts of one woman . . .

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What does it mean to govern?



Q: What does it mean to govern? 
[Careful – this is a trick question.]
        a.) to supervise
        b.) to manage
        c.) to donate
        d.) to advise

The correct answer, according to the 2004 governance classic, Governance as Leadership, is e.) none of the above. To govern is “to lead.” And yes, leading includes supervision, management, fundraising, and advising, but leading also supersedes them.  Let me explain.

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Giving thanks: A formula for success



My wife often travels for work.
It’s one of the sacrifices we accept in exchange for the ability to work together from home. Trips usually take her away for no more than two or three days, but this month a huge project demanded that she be in New Hampshire for nearly two weeks.

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A call for board members to step up



The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review best summed up a recent report from the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) with this headline: “Scathing report says college trustees fail in mission.” The gist of the report is that higher education is mismanaged, and the buck stops with the board. The public’s image of the country’s institutions of higher education is not the most positive. High on the list of complaints. . .

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Should you fire underperforming board members?



Should you fire underperforming board members? The author of "Firing Lousy Board Members" thinks so, and she outlines the process for doing so in her post. Of course, it's not as easy as saying "So-and-so is a lousy board member." No, a board needs to ...

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Is your board's culture entrepreneurial or risk averse?




What is your board’s relationship to risk? Does its work reflect a culture of risk taking or risk avoidance? 

The question surrounding board culture and its engagement with risk seems to arise more frequently these days as boards are increasingly encouraged to travel two seemingly conflicting roads of risk -- the entrepreneurial road of risk taking and the security-conscious road of risk management.

Which road do you prefer to travel? Given your institution’s situation, which road must you travel?

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Shared governance is flawed but fixable



Few people appear happy with the state of shared governance at American colleges and universities.”

That’s how Brian Rosenberg, president of Macalester College, begins a thoughtful essay on how to reform shared governance in higher education.

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Paying attention to spiritual formation: What’s a board to do?



Spiritual formation is a topic gaining wide acceptance
as a “growing edge” within many leadership programs in theological education. Students desire it. Professors recognize its role as glue for the whole curricular strategy. Surveys lift up the need for seminary leaders to pay more attention to it. Should seminary boards...

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What are the habits of highly effective boards?

Boards are striving more than ever toward a higher level of performance. The demands of the challenging environment surrounding most theological schools require it. So what might “board excellence” look like?

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An elevator speech for board members



A friend finds out
that you serve on the board of a theological school. He is surprised, pleased, and curious. Questions follow immediately, and in rapid fire. “So what are your responsibilities as a board member?” he inquires. “And how does your board work there differ — if at all — from the other boards on which you serve?” You need an ...

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Everything you need to know about shared governance



Several years ago, the Chronicle of Higher Education ran an article on shared governance. The writer worried that few people in education seem to understand what the phrase means. . . . This piece made me wonder, Can that be true of readers of In Trust? We talk a lot about shared governance. (I mean, a lot.) Could it be that some of our readers—seminary presidents...

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Jargon that works: Dashboards

Instrument panel from a Ford Model A

One particular piece of jargon that appears to me to have some staying power, simply because it does such a fine job of helping us visualize an idea, is the dashboard. There may be a risk that best practices start to require too many key indicators on the dashboard, but when someone uses the term...

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Seeking a blessed union: Is a merger on your horizon?

Union Street, Traverse City

Seminaries share little with the ambitions of corporate America, but it’s interesting to compare the matter-of-fact approach to mergers held up by the business world to the apprehension that talk of a merger can bring to a seminary boardroom.

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A bit of winter inspiration

Snowshoers in a snowstorm

John Coleman’s short essay for the Harvard Business Review Blog Network, “Leadership is Not a Solitary Task,” should inspire presidents, board chairs, board members, and anyone who cares about the direction of an institution.

Coleman notes that . . .

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Shared governance for tough times

Eureka!These are tough days for leaders in higher education and especially so for those at the helm of a theological school. Everywhere I go, boards and presidents are on the hunt for the big idea — the game changer — the Eureka moment that will save the day. I find little patience for or interest in collaboration, conversation, or shared governance.

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Six lessons a board can learn from an embezzling employee

'The Embezzler'Laura Otten, director of the Nonprofit Center at LaSalle University’s School of Business, recently posted a sad tale about a nonprofit board that neglected its financial oversight responsibilities over a period of many years, creating an environment in which an employee was able to embezzle almost three-quarters of a million dollars, and leading to a lawsuit by a former board member.

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How much information is helpful to boards?



Which is better -- a 99-word paragraph or a table with four data points?
Guest blogger Timothy Lincoln says he'd rather have vital information presented in one simple table than in a richly textured narrative.

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All hands needed on the governance deck, and noses, too



"Noses in, fingers out." That's what many boards believe.
But guest blogger Rebekah Burch Basinger says that this approach is all wrong, and the demarcation between governance and management is not that clear.

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Summer 2013 reading list



Rebekah Burch Basinger's article in the Summer 2013 issue of In Trust
, "Teach the Governance You Want: Orienting New Board Members About the 'Governance Triad,'" contained references to resources and a section called "To learn more." Click Read More to see the links.

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Dealing with deadwood


What do you do if you've got deadwood on your board
-- board members who don’t do anything? Blue Avocado has some answers.

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The cost of consensus


Does the social situation of working on a board
influence how difficult issues are concluded? Beyond just the oft-discussed phenomenon of groupthink, can subtle social pressures lead boards to make decisions that teeter on the edge of unethical?

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Two strategies for improving your board’s fiduciary behavior


Once upon a time, minding your board’s fiduciary P’s and Q’s
consisted of dotting organizational I’s and crossing legal T’s and little more. But no longer. Or so say the members of an august panel of governance veterans featured in the March/April 2013 issue of Trusteeship magazine. As they tell it, fiduciary stewardship stretches well beyond the board’s attention to the bottom line. 

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You're probably making this mistake


Have you heard (or even uttered) these statements during meetings? 
  • It would be great if…
  • Someone should…
  • Do we all agree to…?
  • Can you try to…?
  • The chair would like...
Repeat after me: No more weasel words.

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