For ease of following this blog, we restate the six mistakes and then the best practices that work as corrections or antidotes to those mistakes.
Mistake #1 – Failing to plan the board’s composition to align with its mission and short- to middle-term plans.
Best Practices #1 – Assign a nominating committee that begins its work with a thoroughgoing analysis of a) the skills and competencies the church board needs over the coming 2-3 years and b) the gaps in those skills and talents the new members need to bring to the table.
The gap consists of the skills and talents the board needs to implement its plans and operate effectively that the incumbent members continuing to serve do not bring to the table.
Clearly, people nominated and elected/appointed to a church board must have demonstrated, over a substantial period of time, a Christ-like love of God our Father and a devotion to the church’s mission. Those attributes represent necessary and not sufficient requirements for consideration.
In addition, the nominating committee (or whomever fills vacancies) looks into candidates’ skills and talents, with an eye toward those skills the church and its board will need to a) operate efficiently and effectively, b) safeguard and preserve its assets and c) implement the church’s plans (for new buildings or revised Sunday School curriculum or whatever the plans focus upon).
Ideal candidates bring multiple skills and talents that fill more than one gap among the skills on the board’s need list.
The possible list of skills and competencies is wide and deep:
- Business disciplines: accounting, finance, operations, marketing, safety, security, project management, human resources, public/media relations, construction…
- Professions: education, helping professions (psychologists, social workers, counselors), nursing, law, medicine, architecture, law enforcement, fire prevention….
- Skills and talents for non-profits: fund raising/development, community organizing/relations, program planning, congregation services…
- Performing arts: musicians, singers, music/choir directors, theater artists…
Of course, your church is unique, so your board skill and talent needs might range far and wide within and beyond the lists above.
Mistake #2 – Recruiting and selecting new board members based on cliques, personal loyalty or simply longevity of church membership.
Best Practices #2 – Based on the gap analysis in Best Practice #1, the nominating committee looks for new members who bring those skills and talents the church and its board need going forward – along with a clear willingness to serve.
Comparing individuals’ skills and talents with the board’s list of needs requires at least informal conversations with prospective board members.
However, beyond building a profile of each individual’s skills and talents, those conversations address each candidate’s motivation to serve. To assess a candidate’s willingness to serve requires a candid discussion of the roles and responsibilities of board members generally and the role(s) forecast for that member based on his or her skills and talents.
In short, prospective board members must have both the skill and the will to serve.
Mistake #3 – Choosing board member recruits that lack the temperament and judgment to discern wise courses of action and who, even worse, sew discord and disruptive conflicts over petty slights.
Best Practices #3 – Vette new board recruits looking for people with both strong faith and emotional intelligence.
Applying this recommended skill-plus-will based approach to recruiting members also gives the nominating committee a chance to look at the emotional intelligence of prospective members.
Emotional intelligence is the capacity to maintain composure under stress; to think clearly when others are responding emotionally vs. rationally. Strong EI allows individuals to maintain awareness of their own emotions and to control those feelings, while even helping others understand their emotions and manage them as well,
Rudyard Kipling said it well in his classic poem, If:
“If you can keep your head when those about you are losing theirs, and blaming it all on you…”
How do we recognize people with high emotional intelligence? A helping professional might provide a more informed and potentially unbiased opinion about any potential candidate.
People with high EI are the ones we seek for advice, because they remain optimistic and creative when facing problems; the ones others frequently want to join the committee or the team; those who help others without being asked; and those most willing to put the needs of the church ahead of their own.
Following this process will sometimes mean that individuals that feel or believe that they have a right to expect an invitation to sit on the church board are not among the new member nominees. (The ones who complain that they have been treated unfairly or slighted, even after someone explains the new board member selection process, may have a deficit of EI.)
The vast majority of people will accept the outcome of a decision-making process if they believe it was fair, impartial and transparent. Therefore, it is important to clearly and openly communicate and explain how the board will fill its vacancies; a tactic which also blunts criticism from those who would sew discord because they were not selected.
Mistake #4 – Failure to set term limits and rotate new members onto the board regularly and periodically.
Best Practices #4 – Write into, or revise into, the board/church’s by-laws provisions that set term limits for all members and officers. Set the term of service for board members at longer than a year but no more than three years, with staggered rotations (so that there is a mix of continuing and new board members.)
Some church boards have members who serve for years consecutively, even decades. As we described in Part 1, the continuity this provides comes at the cost of ingrained thinking and even an inability to change when change is most needed, when innovation will yield the best outcomes.
Some non-profits, including churches, elect officers for a one-year term, thinking that these roles require so much time and effort that it is unfair to ask someone to undertake a two- or even three-year commitment. However, experts agree, experience teaches that serving as a board officer for one year means that about the time the incumbent has learned the ropes his or her term ends.
Staggering terms for two or three years means that one-half or one-third of the board membership changes annually, bringing new ideas and fresh perspectives.
There are too many considerations to discuss them all here. However, a related best practice allows former board members or officers to return to the board after they have finished their terms and rotated off the board for a year, two years or even several years’ hiatus.
Mistake #5 – Lack of an onboarding process to inform, orient and prepare new board members.
Best Practices #5 – Conduct a formal, thorough onboarding process for new board members.
Onboarding is a process that brings newly appointed/elected church board members “up to speed,” on their roles and responsibilities, as well as how the board does it work.
Onboarding is a process conducted over time, vs. an event conducted for a few hours one Saturday morning. The process begins with the selection practices, during which candidates learn the roles and time commitments their positions realistically entail.
(We have too often heard statements to prospective members like, “It’s really not that much time. It’s only one meeting a month.” Churches always have too much work, too many needs, to elect board members only willing to make a minimal one-hour, once-a-month commitment. Realistically, can a board member serve effectively by volunteering one hour a month?)
Space limitations prevent a thorough description of the best practices for onboarding. However, that process involves orienting newcomers to various aspects of their roles in ensuring smooth, safe and secure operation of church facilities and services.
Mistake #6 – Boring board meetings.
Best Practices #6 – Break the traditional mold of boring board meetings and apply the evidence-based best practices for holding engaging, productive and satisfying meetings.
The number one criticism of business meetings, including board meetings, is that they are boring.
However, that need not be the case. The art and science of leading productive, interesting meetings is well established. A few of the leading practices:
- Legally required, formal information such as review and approval of minutes and taking attendance to ensure a quorum is present get handled quickly, based on documents distributed in advance for members’ review.
- Reports from officers or committees presented solely for the information they contain, without any proposed motions or other board action, get distributed for review prior to the meeting; public reading of routine information only wastes time.
- Similarly, any old business that does not require action (that is, nothing beyond informational reports) gets distributed in advance. Discussion in the meeting is limited to questions for information or clarification.
- Board members do have an opportunity to ask questions about these informational reports. For instance, if actual expenditures vary widely from a budgeted line item, then due diligence and board responsibility for oversight dictate that members seek clarifications or explanations. Likewise, projects that are behind schedule require brief explanations of the causes and corrective actions taken or planned.
- Proposed actions, especially formal motions, appear on the agenda with supporting documentation sufficient to allow members to begin the discussion with a basic understanding of the issues, options and proposed actions.
- Some board meetings routinely include an oral presentation or audio-visual display designed to educate or inform the board. For example, if the board is considering a formal safety and security assessment, then the meeting prior to taking action to begin that assessment process the board has an opportunity to learn more about what it will consider.
- Some boards meet for a given amount of time, perhaps an hour, at each meeting, regardless of whether there is business requiring board study, discussion and action. A well-run board meeting might last 15 minutes, 3 hours or anywhere between depending solely on how much time the board needs to debate proposed action items, deliberate and vote.
CorrValues stands ready to discuss your church’s unique situation and needs, toward improving your church board’s performance.