September/October 2007 Issue
Suggestions for Better Governance
By John Pellowe
Church boards have several choices to make in terms of how they relate to church staff. There is no single best way for a board to operate but it is important that it makes a deliberate choice and that staff and board members understand their relationship to each other and the line that separates their responsibilities. The options include:
• Working board – There are no staff or the staff needs a lot of support. Instead of delegating work, the board members make all the decisions and then do the work themselves.
• Management board – Staff and their volunteers do all the work. The board continues to make all the key operating de-cisions.
• Policy board – The board sets the policy framework in which the staff members make their own decisions. The board protects the church’s assets, defines its strategic direction and monitors the church’s effectiveness at fulfilling its mission.
For many church members, their church board is where they get their first experience of organizational leadership. Unfortunately, they often do not receive much training in how to be a good board member and this can lead to problems with the staff.
They may think they were elected to represent a particular viewpoint or segment of the church, which is not true. They must keep the needs of the church as a whole as their primary concern.
They may think they can go around giving direction to the staff and other volunteers when they have authority only at the board table and then only as one of a number of board members. They take their authority out of the boardroom only when the board has given them specific authority to act on its behalf.
They may think they are going to be a working board, getting into operational matters, when in fact they have joined a policy governance board.
The solution is for every church board to develop an orientation program for prospective board members. Before accepting nomination, prospective board members should understand the type of board they will be joining and what they must do to be a good board member. Ongoing board development should be a priority.
John Pellowe is CEO of the Canadian Council of Christian Charities in Elmira, Ont.