Wednesday, February 19, 2020

LESSON 7 – Eliminate Fuzziness Between Board and Staff Roles

Welcome to More Lessons From the Nonprofit Boardroom Blog, a 40-week journey through the new book, More Lessons From the Nonprofit Boardroom, by Dan Busby and John Pearson. Each Wednesday, we're featuring a guest writer’s favorite snippet from the week's topic. Bill Gruenewald is our guest blogger this week for the third of four lessons in "Part 2: Boardroom Tools and Templates.”

LESSON 7 OF 40 - Eliminate Fuzziness Between Board and Staff Roles
Keep your leaders on track with a one-page Prime Responsibility Chart.

THE BIG IDEA FROM THE BOOK: In Lesson 7, the authors note that a well-functioning board has clearly defined roles for staff and board members. This one issue clearly contrasts how an effective board functions (versus an ineffective board)—and will keep the organization on the right track to meet its ministry goals.

MY FAVORITE INSIGHTS from Lesson 7, pages 40-45:
• “ECFA research found the biggest contrast between effective and ineffective boards is the issue of role clarity.”
• “…most boards should relate to one employee: the CEO.”
• “The most important principle: only one person has ‘Prime Responsibility’”…and the Prime Responsibility Chart “is an excellent way to clarify board and staff roles.” 

Why is it important to distinguish between staff roles and board roles? If you don’t, the organization will not move forward in meeting its objectives. It is important, at the outset, to determine the board’s roles versus the staff’s roles. The Prime Responsibility Chart (PRC) is a great tool that can be adapted and will work for any organization.

It is important during your board training each year, that the CEO help board members understand their responsibilities and also understand the staff responsibilities of the organization. This is best done when new board members come on the board and also reiterated each year with all board members.

Using the PRC, you will help your board focus on the ministering and monitoring aspect of the work and stay away from the meddling and micro-managing. This will provide for better effectiveness. The PRC is a living document and should be reviewed at least annually. 

I like what Ram Charan said in his book, Owning Up: The 14 Questions Every Board Member Needs to Ask, in the chapter, “How Do We Stop from Micromanaging?” he said:

“Asking questions of an operating nature is not in itself micromanaging, as long as the questions lead to insights about issues like strategy, performance, major investment decisions, key personnel, the choice of goals, or risk assessment.”

The key for highly-functioning boards is to focus on the vision, strategy, and goals—and then empower (and hold accountable) the staff to do the work needed to meet ministry objectives.


BILL GRUENEWALD is President-Treasurer of the Tennessee Baptist Foundation in Franklin, Tenn. Bill holds an undergraduate degree in Accounting and Master degrees in Business Administration and Religious Education. He is an ordained minister and has over 25 years in church administration. He is married with one adult son and two grandchildren. 

• First, utilize the Prime Responsibility Chart (PRC) provided by ECFA and adapt it to your organization.
• Second, communicate the PRC and make sure all board and staff members understand their roles and responsibilities. 
• Visit the ECFA Knowledge Center and read and share the short chapter, Lesson 7, “Eliminate Fuzziness Between Board and Staff Roles.”

Feb. 26, 2020, watch for the commentary by Bill Frisby on Lesson 8, “Design Your Succession Plan—NOW! What if your CEO is hit by a bus?”

BULK ORDERS: Click here. For more resources and to download the book's Table of Contents, visit the book's webpage.

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