The subtitle for Temkin’s publication is “Advice and Practical Tips from the Fields Top Practitioners, Researchers and Provocateurs.” It contains three sections (Governance Today, Making it Work, Myths and Madness), nine chapters, forty-six articles, and six appendices. Each of the articles is written by a different person, although several individuals contribute two articles. The nine sections address the following questions:
What is governance, really?
Quality conversation is the heart of governance.
It’s all about engaging the community.
Your board model, the “Boss” and maximizing relationships.
Strategy is the key to finding the “right” people to serve on your board.
Getting it right straight out of the gate and continuing down the track to even greater successes.
Logistics and technology matter.
When the board requires a little more to be effective.
Lessons to consider for a more productive future.
The appendices provide guidance regarding standing committees, discerning board member support for the agency, sample job description for a board chair, and stages of discussion (i.e. guiding decision-making). Each chapter is short (four to five pages) and to the point, often including definitions and other tips.
I will focus on three articles. The first is by Steve Bowman, “Choice, Future and Communities: The True Role of the Board and Governance” (5-8). He suggests that governance represents the tools used “to assist the board to make the choices that create the future for the communities they serve” (5). He argues that the main work of the board is to “make choices,” rejecting the term “decisions” because it suggests a “final and right answer” which seldom is the case. The term “choice” suggests that the board is seeking the best and most viable option among several that will enable the board to create a good future. He offers some suggestions about how to ensure that board work is future focused. Board agendas should reflect “the key strategies from your strategic plan” (7). When staff report, they should indicate “in reports and proposals how their departments are achieving the strategic directions outlined in your organization’s strategic plan” (7). He urges nonprofit boards to embrace their responsibility to “make a difference in the communities [they] serve” (7). Communities keep changing and so nonprofit boards need to keep defining carefully what their community of service really encompasses.
This blog attends to the role of board chairs particularly. So I think the article by Susan Schaefer and Bob Wittig entitled “Board Leadership: Who’s the Boss?” (141-47) offers some great insights. They present the case that executive directors of nonprofits have to give attention to board development and operations if they are to help their agencies function effectively. Optimally the board chair and executive director can find a way to work well together so that the management and governance align well. They assert that “an executive director must intentionally work to lead this high-level volunteer group” (141). The best way to do this is to ally your efforts with those of the board chair. “Highly effective boards benefit from a synergy between the executive director and the board chair” (142). This requires the executive director to nurture the relationship, communicate often and well, and work with the board chair in developing effective board agendas.
The third article I will reference is by Pamela Leland, “Embracing Interdependence: The Relationship Between the Board and CEO” (157-65). She encourages nonprofit leaders to “embrace the idea that good governance arises from an active partnership between the board and the CEO. That good governance is grounded in good relationships characterized by shared commitment, clear expectations, and good communications” (150). She cites research that indicates “most chief executives are board-centered executives–i.e., chief executives who intentionally support and encourage their boards’ capacity to govern” (159). She further suggests that “the board/CEO relationship exists along a continuum between dependence and independence” (160). Interpersonal skills form a significant part of an effective CEO’s toolkit and these skills enable such an officer to work well with a board. The bottom line is that mutual trust forms the most important ingredient this relationship.
The compendium of short articles has much to offer those who serve as church board chairs and can also be helpful for church leaders who are seeking to understand how to assist their boards develop their capacity to govern well.