315. Book Review: “Lessons from the Nonprofit Boardroom” by Dan Busby and John Pearson. (ECFA Press, 2017. 225 pages)


Dan Busby is the president of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability. John Pearson is well-known for his work as a nonprofit board consultant and CEO of various nonprofit agencies. Their joint publication offers an easy, but challenging look into the world of the nonprofit board. Reflecting many years of board experience they offer forty reflections on a wide variety of board issues. Each short chapter begins with a provocative question or statement, followed by a pertinent piece of advice from well-known historical or contemporary leaders. They discuss the issue summarizing it in a “Boardroom Lesson” and several “Board Action Steps,” concluding with a brief prayer.

They discuss eleven broad topics such as “the powerful impact of highly engaged boards,” “boardroom tools, templates and typos,” “epiphanies in the boardroom,” “boardroom time-wasters, troublemakers, and truth-tellers,” “boardroom best practices,” and “boardroom worst practices.” At the conclusion they offer a short study guide, as well as end-notes suggesting additional resources related to specific issues. The writing style is highly engaging, using a conversational style, and highlighting key ideas with bullet points. Their awareness of the literature and resources regarding nonprofit governance becomes apparent very quickly.

A minor challenge in the organization of the book is that treatments of key problems are scattered over several sections. For example, if you wanted to explore their thoughts concerning effective board meetings, then you would begin in Part 2, 5 “Before the Board Meeting,” then move to Part 5, 17 “Sidetrack Harebrained Ideas,” then consider three sections in Part 6. A discussion about preparing and managing reports occurs in Part 8, chapter 27 and in Part 11, 36. They discuss the importance of a brief evaluation of the board’s work at the end of every meeting in Part 11, 39. So the reader has to do a bit of work to locate the various discussions regarding some of the key, continuing issues that affect board work. Similarly, if you are a board chair, you will be flipping pages to find the various sections specific to your role.

I also observed that they have not discussed some significant issues. For example, I did not notice any discussion about managing conflicts of interest or who communicates on behalf of the board with society members or the public? Or what about the use of technology in board work (e.g., holding virtual meetings)? Various chapters consider the respective roles of the CEO and the board. However, the writers do not suggest a good process by which the CEO in concert with the board develops an agency vision.

For a new nonprofit board member or leader, this volume offers a rich array of advice. The reader can pick and choose which portion to read based on the most urgent issue for which he or she needs some guidance or help. I appreciated the emphasis upon the spiritual reality within which Christian nonprofit boards have to operate, if they are going to fulfill their mission. The chapter (part 7, 22) on the board chair brings to the fore the importance of selecting a competent person for this role.

I would certainly recommend this book for new nonprofit board members and board leaders serving Christian agencies. The authors do promise a sequel.

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