Wednesday, September 30, 2020

LESSON 39 – Identify Your Key Assumptions

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. Ed McDowell is our guest blogger this week for the fourth of five lessons in "Part 10: Building a 24/7 Board Culture.” And during this COVID-19 era, the role of the board becomes even more critical. We pray that your board will have God-honoring wisdom as you spiritually discern next steps.

39 OF 40: Identify Your Key Assumptions
An inaccurate premise may lead to a colossal flop!

THE BIG IDEA FROM THE BOOK: In Lesson 39, the authors note that identifying and agreeing on assumptions is critical to effective decision making. Assumptions are critical in dealing with short-term situations and long-term shifts in trends. Making inspirational decisions filled with incredible tactics can lead to a complete miss if the assumptions are wrong. On the other hand, inspirational decisions built on vetted and agreed upon assumptions can create synergy and alignment that build momentum and increase mission effectiveness.   

MY FAVORITE INSIGHTS from Lesson 39, pages 209-216:
On page 216, there are three action steps for the board, followed by a prayer. If you do nothing else with this chapter, pray the prayer as a board and follow the action steps of Allocate, Assess, and Advise. 

This pandemic season is challenging nearly every assumption every nonprofit has operated on. I am the CEO of a vibrant camp and conference center. We work with groups of people. Large groups of people. Guess what? Nearly every operating assumption we have relied on does not work in this environment.  

We immediately established a new list of assumptions and began updating them every two weeks as we began to learn the scope and depth of COVID-19. Our largest gathering occurs in December during a Christmas festival where 70,000 people come. Guess what? Gatherings like that are not being permitted in our part of the country this year.  

With that reality, we decided we could turn this festival into a drive-through experience, use technology, and, simply by re-examining our assumptions on how to serve our community with the limitations on social gatherings—we could get at this another way. 

We have also adopted the assumption that we will not see 2019 levels of ministry until 2022 at the earliest. The time between now and then is going to be lean, creative, and adaptive. 

Here is the point—aggressively working assumptions can be so helpful in creating a baseline for alignment, decisions, tactics, and communication.  


ED McDOWELL is the CEO of WBC Ministries in Washington State. Ed also provides consulting to many faith-based nonprofits on board development, CEO growth, and organizational health. 

• Write down three assumptions that are no longer working. Own the fact that life has moved on.
 Have a meaningful discussion with another leader on the top-three assumptions you need to consider for the next six months.
 Visit the ECFA Knowledge Center and read and share the short chapter, Lesson 39, “Identify Your Key Assumptions.”


On Oct. 7, 2020, watch for the commentary by Steve Macchia on Lesson 40, “You Made Me Better Than I Was. Board experiences should leave all participants better than they were.”

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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