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Governance Best Practices

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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How to make a board handbook



Does your board have a handbook – either online or on paper?
If you don’t, you may be missing out on an important resource to help your board function at the top of its game.  

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It’s seldom one or the other -- it's both


Either/or thinking drives me crazy,
which helps explain my frequent dissents into madness (professionally speaking). Almost weekly, an exhausted executive director, overwhelmed development staffer, or out-of-breath board member gives me that “deer in the headlights” look when I suggest that the organization try walking and chewing gum simultaneously (metaphorically speaking).

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Answers to questions about boards and fundraising

Proof that
Whenever two or three nonprofit executives
gather together, fundraising and board members are sure to come up. And based on conversations to which I've been privy, there's not a lot of bragging going on. In fact, most of the nonprofit leaders with whom I work assume that every other board in town (the nation, maybe even the world) is more engaged than theirs -- but without solid facts on which to base the assumption.

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Are open trustee meetings a good thing?


In a recent article on the Inside Higher Ed website,
Academic Fantasies: Open Trustee Meetings,” John Lombardi examines a polished pillar of board leadership: the open board meeting (or as Lombardi describes it, that “theatrical forum where talented individuals play ritualized parts according to well prepared scripts”). 

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How big should your board be?



What is the optimal size
for a board of trustees? Do small boards work better than big ones? And how do you define big

A recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education discusses the risks of having a board that is too big to function appropriately, including poor communication, disengagement, diluted accountability, and the possibility that a small faction will be able to seize control.

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After bye-bye board member, then what?

For a season, board members throw their minds, hearts, and financial resources into your organization. Then they come to the end of their terms (or their endurance). That's the cycle of board life. Most nonprofit organizations handle well the sweet sorrow of parting as these special volunteers exit the boardroom. There are the tributes, the plaques, and parties. But after bye-bye board member, then what? Despite declarations of continuing devotion, absence seldom makes the heart grow fonder -- at least when it comes to former board members. Unless you are intentional about trying to stem the natural progression of things, all those years of service to your organization very quickly fade to a pleasant memory. Before you know it, bye-bye board member turns into good-bye friend. I've thought often about this challenge during my many years of consulting with, writing about, and serving on boards of faith-based organizations. It makes me sad when former board members drift away from causes to which they' ...

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"Give or get"? No, it's "govern"

Offering plates

If there's one thing that we can all agree on, it's that board members need to give, get, or get off the board. Right?

Maybe not, says governance researcher Bill Ryan. "Nonprofits do require funding, and governing does require nonprofit board members to think about funding," he says. "But all too often, this germ of truth mutates into a giant, fast-growing myth that ends up choking good governance to death."

This quotation is from a six-year-old article that caught my eye when it was reprinted recently in The Nonprofit Quarterly. It's short -- you can read the whole thing in about two minutes. But it's a healthy reminder that the first responsibility of the board is governance, not fundraising.

 

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The trustees' decision to fire Joe Paterno

The recent death of long-time Penn State football coach Joe Paterno spurred an outpouring of public grief that has, temporarily, overshadowed the tragic and tawdry circumstances of his firing last fall.  Just four days before his death, the New York Times published an article about the university's controversial decision to fire Paterno without warning, via a phone call. The article is based on an extensive interview with board members who wanted to set the record straight and defend their decision. To me, the most significant part of the interview is the trustees' description of how they were caught unaware by the scandal. They were not informed of the serious charges against former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky until the media broke the story. The university president papered over its importance. And when the board wrote a press release to express sympathy with the victims, the president altered its wording before releasing it to the media. The article is a fascinating look at a scandal from the ...

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The role of edgy questions in strategic planning

If strategic planning is on the horizon for your organization, you'll want to take a look at the latest issue of Great Boards where contributing editor Barry Bader lists 10 edgy questions that can help clarify a board's thinking about the future. The article is written for governance leaders within hospitals and health care systems, but it's not much of a stretch to apply Bader's advice in your setting. Don't be put off by Bader's choice of the adjective "edgy" in the article's title. As he explains, "Edgy questions aren't disloyal, they reflect the ultimate loyalty -- that commitment to the mission and mutual trust are so strong that leaders can challenge themselves and never accept the status quo as the only alternative." You'll want to click on over to Great Boards for the full text. In the meantime, here are the questions, without Bader's commentary. Now for the questions As a first step toward clarifying the board's vision and testing the organization's progress, ask: "How will we know when w ...

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