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From category archives: In Trust Blog

Governance

Building a better board meeting

Board members often lament the lack of time in board meetings to focus on strategic issues and trends that really affect the future of the institution. Many boards struggle with spending too much time on the present, or even on the past. They prioritize reports from staff and committees but leave little time for robust discussions about moving forward.

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Resource roundup: Board orientation

Effective board orientation is valuable for new trustees and veteran board members alike. Fitting orientation into already-full board meetings can be difficult, but it is important to take time each year to do so. 

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Abandon your past to create your future

Robert S. Landrebe, who has just retired as senior vice president at Asbury Theological Seminary, offered advice for finding clarity in your school’s future in the Spring 2014 issue of In Trust. In his article titled “To create the future, selectively abandon the past,” Landrebe offers blunt but empathic advice to schools facing shrinking enrollment (in other words, most schools): “Let me describe theological education as an ‘industry.’ We are part of an industry that has a vital mission that serves the church. But, over the last decade, our student market has been in decline. During this decade we haven’t adjusted our expenses in response to a shrinking market. Rather, expenses have risen even faster than the consumer price index." 

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Disruption can drive change that leads to sustainability

A recent issue of Trusteeship magazine features an article by Peter Smith titled “How Should Boards Respond to Disruption.” The article was written primarily for boards of universities and colleges, but it goes right to the heart of what it will take to lead a seminary through the next 30 or 40 years.

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The leader you need now, at this moment

If your school is in transition now, or if you've recently completed a leadership change – or even if you are not even considering one – the issue of leadership transition ought to be a part of regular board discussions. Organizational succession planning is the board's work.

 

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AGB report on the current state of shared governance

In North America, shared governance is a central component of higher education. Yet plenty of research shows that shared governance is not clearly understood by many who are tasked with it.
 

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Steps for effective board recruitment

How do you go about finding new board members? It’s not as easy as asking friends if they want to serve.

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What are a board's top concerns?

What are the top concerns for the future of higher education as identified by board members serving at private, nonprofit colleges and universities across the United States?

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How (and why) to do board assessment

As part of the ongoing work of the In Trust Center’s Wise Stewards Initiative, participating schools are completing board self-assessments, which their faculty coaches are using to create board development plans. Creating a plan is something that every school should consider doing.

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Diversifying your board

As the diversity of students entering theological schools continues to grow, many school leaders are challenged with mirroring that diversity within their administration, faculty, and board. 

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Questioning tenure

At some point every board member will hear arguments for and against tenure, the policy that has been called “the most sacred cow munching on the ivy that covers the towers of academia.”

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Strategy is still the issue

Back in 2012, Christa Klein, then president of In Trust, spoke with Robert Cooley, “the guru of governance,” on the question of strategy and the rapidly changing landscape of theological education. Their conversation remains relevant today.

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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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Visualizing governance systems

The dashboard of a car can tell you a lot — fuel level, speed, air temperature, tire pressure. The one thing it can’t tell you is where you’re going. For that we need another metaphor. Randall Basinger at Messiah College has just the thing: GPS, or governance positioning system.

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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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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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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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Get merger discussions started by reviewing a document required by ATS



Schools accredited by the Commission on Accrediting of the Association of Theological Schools (ATS) that are considering a merger should download and peruse a key ATS petition early in the process.

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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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When do you declare a state of emergency?

What is "financial exigency"? This is one of those phrases a board would rather avoid, even when declaring financial exigency is the responsible next step for a school in trouble. 

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A good example of a presidential search update letter


When a school is looking for a new president, rumors fly and questions abound. The search process takes many months, and often confidentiality is paramount.

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Leading with Intent: BoardSource report available now


At the recent BoardSource Leadership Forum in Seattle, there was a lot of discussion about the results of a recent report, Leading with Intent: 2017 National Index of Nonprofit Board Practices. The report highlights findings related to the composition, culture, responsibilities, and impact of nonprofit boards. BoardSource collects data from chief executives and board chairs and breaks the data down to reveal the differences in responses. 

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Do you need a search firm to find your next president? Maybe not



What’s your process for hiring a new president? Many boards these days rely on consultants or executive search firms to identify candidates, vet their qualifications, gauge their interest, and make recommendations.

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Orientation is the key to keeping a board on the right course



To stay focused on the mission, a school's board members must be guided and redirected as a school's needs change in response to a shifting environment. Using the metaphor of a ship, Tracy Schier likens board orientation to the compass guiding a seminary toward “true north” -- the school’s mission. If a board is going to avoid getting lost at sea, orientation is vital for new and continuing board members alike.

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