Not all boards are created equal. While several factors can cause a leadership board to be ineffective, one common reason is the board model itself. When it comes to board structure and size, there are four basic models: The Elder Model, the “I Don’t Want to Lose Control” Model, the Secular Nonprofit Model, and what I consider to be the Ideal Model.
The Elder Model: Boards that rely on the Elder Model are typically composed of influential lay leaders who are likely involved because of their financial or ministerial influence. In this model, board members provide feedback and counsel to the senior leadership in the church and work very closely with the leadership. These boards are typically small—comprising five people or so—and they may be overworked because of their small size. They often don’t have the breadth of skills and experience required to support the ministry’s mission.
The “I Don’t Want to Lose Control” Model: In this model, the visionary/founder of the ministry sits on the board and essentially runs both the board and the ministry herself. The board members are simply figureheads and “yes” men. They don’t have in-depth information about the organization and therefore cannot provide sound counsel. Fiscal controls are generally not in place.
The Secular Model: The Secular Nonprofit Model employs a large, all-volunteer board where members operate at different levels of participation. Some members may be deeply involved, as with the Elder Model, while others are merely figureheads, as with the “I Don’t Want to Lose Control” Model. Despite this diversity in levels of commitment, all board members have an equal vote, and all authority rests in them. This type of board also may not see the visionary/found as an integral part of the ministry, leading to tension among board members. And decision-making may be difficult because of the number of board members who are permitted to offer opinions on board decisions.
The Ideal Model: What we at the Vision Group see as the Ideal Model is in reality a hybrid model. The founder/visionary is not a board member, but instead is a paid staff person. The board has two levels of participation and authority. There is an inner circle of close advisors that really understands and supports the visionary/founder. We call this the Executive Committee, and it closely resembles an elder board. This group may be composed of five or so people. This group makes recommendations to the board-at-large for a “yea” or “nay” vote. The board-at-large is a much larger group—up to 25 people—who are less informed and less involved, but may have money or important community connections. This group accepts or rejects recommendations it receives from the Executive Committee.
Four benefits of the hybrid model
There are several benefits to this model.
First, the visionary/founder receives a high level of support from the board. Second, the board is large enough that board members represent a variety of skills and have numerous contacts in the community that can be tapped on behalf of the ministry. Third, the Executive Committee structure ensures quick decision-making despite the board’s size. And finally, the board-at-large serves as a training ground for developing new leadership that could, in time, be added to the Executive Committee, preventing burn-out of Executive Committee members.
What model does your organization use? Is it time to consider a different model?
Mike Stickler—Pastor, philanthropist, Managing Partner of The Vision Group, Ltd.
My first stint in ministry was a homeless mission. I was 30 years old, just out of my career in sales, and I got roped into taking the position as executive director. They forgot to mention that it took a million bucks a year to keep the thing going.
They had about a half-million dollars in the bank that they were just sitting on. I found out that the money came from a lady who had passed away and donated that money to the organization. Her specific instruction was that we would use that money to develop more housing for the homeless. But the organization was sitting on it for a rainy day. I convinced them to release it, and we started building houses and facilities and really starting to take care of the homeless.
I had the privilege of being a camp director for a number of years. But before I became the director they made me the CFO. They said, “We’re out of money. We have tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of bills. We won’t have any money for five months. How’d you like to be the CFO?”
So they gave me the box of bills and the empty checkbook and a five-month calendar until I had money. And I said to them, “One of the things I know we have to do is be more generous.” And they said, “What do you mean? We’re a camp—we’re generous all the time.”
And I said, “No, we need to look for specific ways to be generous, because ultimately if God can get something through you, He can get something to you. So we need to practice generosity.” I actually wanted to give a tenth of the camp income to other Christian work beyond ourselves. And the board said, “We can’t do that. We can’t touch the cash. We don’t have any.”
But we came up with other ways that we were intentionally generous. We allowed the 12th person to come free whenever there were retreats. When we had 250 beds and we only had 150 beds filled, we’d call international groups to come in and be there for free. We started a scholarship program for needy children.
From an organizational side we made that decision. Now from a church side, I helped start a church. We started out with eight people and ultimately grew to about a thousand. And when we were just 20, 30, 40 people I said, “Every offering, we will set aside the first portion of our offering to give beyond ourselves.” And so that was in our DNA from the first month of operations—no matter how little we had, we would be givers from whatever we had.
Michael B. Williams—Pastor, Education Director of The Vision Group, Ltd.
As a pastor I was sent to a church that was struggling financially, struggling with its very low membership. The very first meeting I had with the board, the question was posed, “What are we going to do about getting more people and more money?”
And I said, “First of all, we’re not going to worry about getting more people and more money. What we’re going to do is see that we are in the business of being church. And that means being a house of prayer for the community. That means learning and. That means being available to those who have needs. And the people and the money part will take care of itself.”
Well, it did. It became part of our DNA, to make certain that we were doing the things that we understood ourselves called to do as church in that community.
What’s your story? Have you helped lead a ministry into greater generosity?
You can hear more about Effective Ministry Leadership from Brian Kluth, Mike Stickler, and Michael Williams on this week's featured program . They are just a few of the presenters at The Raise Your Vision Online Forum .
With the exception of Christian leaders and other church-related workers, most of us work in what we think of as the secular world, or in some kind of marketplace situation. And often our mindset is that this 9-to-5 thing that we have to do is somehow separate from our Christian life and the work that we do for God. But we know instinctively that this isn’t the right perspective. Considering how many hours in our lifetime we spend at work, it seems worthwhile to consider what God has to say about it.What is the Creator's perspective on our daily work? What does the Bible say about it?
At the very beginning, God created Adam to work. He designed him to be able to do a specific kind of work, and He gave him that work to do.
Note, this was before the Fall. Work was part of God’s design for man from the very beginning. In the perfect, unfallen world, Adam was designed by God to honor Him with his daily work in God’s creation.
All through Scripture, honorable, daily work is seen as part of God’s plan for people. Luke was a physician. Paul made tents. Jesus worked with his hands for many years before beginning his public ministry.
Fast forward to our day, and work is seen as a necessary evil. Even Christians view their daily work as somehow separate from their service to the Lord on Sundays. We live with an unbiblical dichotomy in our thinking, a divide between the “spiritual” and the “secular.” And we see our work is decidedly in the “secular” category.
Bringing Jesus to work with you
What if we viewed our work as God’s calling on our lives? What if we took Jesus to work with us, as it were, every day?
A famine of hearing the Word of God
We really don’t hear enough from the pulpit about what work is all about, do we? What a tragedy that is. Most of us spend most of our waking hours in that 9-to-5 (or more) world, and then we spend an hour on Sunday learning how to live as Christians in all kinds of situations and circumstances—except for the one where we spend most of our time.
My friend Art Ritter pointed out, “Did you know that we spend almost more waking hours with our workmates than we do with our life mate? We certainly spend more waking hours with our workmates than we do with our church mates.
So let’s look at the biblical argument for what the notion of work ought to be all about.
Dr. Bob Rayburn taught a 10-part series on work at his church, and I’m indebted to him for much of what follows.
There’s the purpose for which man was created—to do work that would glorify God.
The Puritans concluded that a Christian could serve God not only WHILE he was tending sheep, but by tending the sheep as well as serving the Lord with the wealth that comes from the work.
Look at Isaiah 65:21-22:
21They will build houses and dwell in them;
they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
22 No longer will they build houses and others live in them,
or plant and others eat.
For as the days of a tree,
so will be the days of my people;
my chosen ones will long enjoy
the work of their hands.
“So much is work the calling of a human life,” wrote Dr. Rayburn, “so much is it what we were created to do, that it will continue to be the business of our life when sin is conquered and mankind has risen to a perfect state. Work was assigned to man in Eden; it will be required of him in heaven.”
A work check-up
Thinking about God’s perspective on our daily work prompts a number of significant questions we should each ask ourselves.
As long as they are lawful for Christians, all occupations are in service to God. Our jobs themselves are service to the Lord. So we should look for ways to make our work, and our way of working, much more intentionally in service to the Lord.
How? Think hard. Find those ways. Our work is holy. Our work is from God, and it ought to be done for God.
Puritan leader John Cotton summed it up this way:
“A true believing Christian…lives in his vocation by his faith. Not only my spiritual life but even my civil life in this world, and all the life I live, is by the faith of the Son of God: He exempts no life from the agency of his faith.”
What can you do to be more intentional about serving the Lord in your daily work?
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Many boards get tripped up when it comes to delineating their role in relation to the role of paid staff. A board member might not like the way a certain junior staff person (not the Executive Director) is performing his or her job. Should the board member address the issue with that staff person? Or the office copier breaks down, and the organization needs a new one. The funds aren’t in the budget. Can the Executive Director go ahead and purchase the copier without board approval?
These can be tricky situations.
In the first scenario, the organization’s Executive Director is responsible for managing the junior staff on a day-to-day basis. The board does not supervise the staff with the exception of the Executive Director, so this situation should be left up to the Executive Director. In the second scenario, the board sets the annual budget and must approve any changes to it. That means that the Executive Director can’t buy the new copier until the board adds the funds to the budget.
Separating board and staff responsibilities is easier if you think about each group’s focus. Broadly speaking, the board is responsible for overall planning and policy development, as well as approving and evaluating policies. The staff implements the policies and plans, broadly speaking.
Although I suggest a strict delineation of board/staff duties, it’s not unusual for staff members to be included in board activities. For example, the chief executive often collaborates with the board chairman on development of the board meeting agendas. Staff members may attend board meetings to give reports; for example, the Development Director may provide a progress report on a major grant application, and the Finance Director may provide financial reports. But it’s important to note that staff members do not have a vote and do not offer opinions or engage in discussion unless asked by a board member. Finally, staff members may be members of board committees. For example, the Development Directors would be a logical addition to the Finance or Fundraising Committee.
Your staff and your board will benefit—and therefore, your organization will benefit—from being as clear as possible about roles and responsibilities.
When a leading philanthropist meets with an organization seeking his support, what does he most want to know about them? Peter Strople has been called “One of the World’s Great Rainmakers,” “The Most Connected Man in America,” and “One of the Most Connected People in the World.” He is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer at Zero2 Ventures, and he advises investors and executives involved in start-ups to Fortune 25 global companies.
He’s also my good friend.
I asked Peter to share the top things he would want to learn in the first 30 minutes of meeting with an organization that is seeking his support.