What Does a Board Do?

The new executive director of the Veritas Forum David Hobbet came by the office this week and I had a chance to get to know him. In the course of the conversation we talked about the role of the board for a nonprofit and I shared with him the expectations and design of the board of The Gathering. Our board is a bit unusual in that the board is composed of seven couples – not just men and women but families.
I described to David what we call the Four F’s of board membership. These are the four characteristics of our board I proposed in 1996 when the original board chair Jack Willome asked me what kind of help I needed from a board to be successful.
Friendship: The way I would define a friend as a board member is someone who can tell the truth in love. It is not a crony or an admirer. I need a sense of partnership with the board that allows the freedom to tell the truth because we are dedicated to the accomplishment of the same mission.
Focus: What will we not do? I need a board that will keep us all focused on the opportunities that are distinctly ours. I believe our unique mission will be diluted unless we are ruthless in checking ourselves and not distracted by many interesting possibilities.
Fidelity: I mean this in two ways. First is financial. Our finances should be completely open and in order. Second, the board is entrusted with the vision. It is relatively easy now for us with The Gathering to stay true to the mission and not wander off, but success or expediency will tempt us to betray that trust. My prayer is that The Lord would dismantle The Gathering before it strays from the mission to serve and not be served.
Foresight: Part of our mission is expanding the vision of others, and the board must be constantly stretching the vision of The Gathering itself. The board must be composed of people who see things from a variety of perspectives and interact with a wide world and not just one culture. We need people who will bring their experience in other disciplines and help us see around the next curve.
Most boards also include a fifth “F” and that is Financial. We did not do that. We have never required members of the board to give or to raise money. We wanted to make sure we concentrated on the four most important characteristics, and I think that has worked well for us. It would not work for every board.
Fortunately, David has an excellent board and I was impressed that they are working together in asking important questions about their future. I am looking forward to hearing more good questions as they launch their strategic planning process. Being allowed in on these conversations is one of the best parts of my work.

4 Comments

  1. Fred…great stuff! Especially for board members in The Gathering communitytheir ability to have healthy boards will then “rub off” and be influential to the ministries they fund (and the boards who serve those ministries). As you know ECFA is providing a significant amount of resources for boards including the ECFA Governance Survey the ECFA Governance Toolbox Series (short DVDs and for board meetingssuch as the “3 Hats” of every board member)and the governance blog. Details at: http://www.ecfa.org/Content/GovernanceResources

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  2. Thanks for sharing your wisdomFred. I’ll never forget Roberta Hestenes’s words”Board work is sacrificial Kingdom work.” Roberta’s vast experiencedeep insight and gift of wisdom on the subject of non-profit boards has been priceless to meand has guided the development and growth of the board of Lifewater International.Roberta had commented that the future success of non-profits is highly dependent on the work of its Board of Directors. Looking forward to hearing more wisdom on this subject….

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  3. Like the four but maybe the like the absent 5th the best.

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  4. Good insights Fred. I often use the “Five W’s” with boards: Wisdom Work Wealth Witnessand Wallop. But I like your F’s for The Gathering. I have not found electing couples works well in most ministries but for The Gathering I see the value.

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