I often think of the church as the body of Christ, a family of believers, a community of faith–and much less often as a “nonprofit organization.” That’s not a definition found in Scripture, yet in our twenty-first century, North American context, the church and church-related agencies do function as non-profit organizations with boards, budgets, personnel, and other responsibilities. To help us navigate these well, I highly recommend Doing Good Better: How to be an Effective Board Member of a Nonprofit Organization by Edgar Stoesz (Skyhorse Publishing, 2015, 160 pages).
Here are my nine reasons why you need to read this book.
1. This book offers a helpful orientation to how boards and non-profit organizations work.
When I served on my first denominational board, I faced a steep learning curve. I felt lost in the budget discussions. I missed a board meeting because I thought an “executive session” was a meeting for the executives and didn’t realize it meant all of us board members without executive staff present. I learned a lot, which is perhaps the whole point of a rookie’s first year, but this book would have helped me become a more effective board member faster by orienting me to the role and purpose of boards and my responsibilities as a board member.
2. It promotes servant leadership as taught by Jesus.
Board directors and church council members are leaders.
President Woodrow Wilson once said, “Every [one] who takes office in Washington either grows or swells.” The same could be said of organizational leaders. They serve best by using servanthood techniques. Servant leaders are motivated not by power or prestige, but by genuinely putting the interests of others and the cause ahead of themselves, by enabling rather than enforcing. Such is the leadership that people follow willingly and with good results. . . . . No one said it better than the master teacher when instructing his disciples: “If any [one] desires to be first, the same shall be last of all and servant of all.” – page 95
3. It promotes honesty and other ethics.
In a church or other Christian organization, we might think that this should go without saying, but this book remains firmly grounded in reality and recognizes the possibility of an “unprincipled” CEO or a board member who consistently misses meetings. In a section on honesty in publicity, the author writes:
Many organizations report only the positive things that happen. They hide the shadows and exaggerate the accomplishments. That may work for a time, but it is not the way to build a solid, enduring support base. You can, it is said, tell a big lie with a hundred truths. . . .
I crossed an organization off my list, which I had long supported, because I knew from other sources that they were experiencing huge difficulties and disappointments. But they gave no hint of it in their publicity. I concluded, “They are not being honest with me.” Some of their difficulties could have been explained, but by denying them they violated my trust. – page 42
4. This is a book to grow on.
This book is concise, but it also takes the time at many points to helpfully distinguish between the needs and practices of smaller, intermediate, and larger organizations; between start-ups and more mature ones; between healthy organizations and ones that are troubled.
For example, in the chapter on governance and management, the author notes that a smaller, younger organization may not distinguish between and separate the two functions as clearly as a larger organization with professional staff. As an organization grows, the role of the board and of individual board members changes.
5. This book is well-rounded.
The surprisingly wide array of topics range from fiduciary responsibility to spirituality to legal liability and more. On spirituality:
Many of us grew up with a theology that separates the secular from the spiritual. Work and worship, word and deed were as separate as night and day. This is, most Biblical scholars agree, a false and unfortunate separation, and yet it persists and distracts from the richness with which we should view our work.
This wrongheaded theology needs to be replaced with the recognition that God is with us in the boardroom as God is with us in our places of worship. The main difference is that God’s presence is recognized in the latter and too seldom in the former. – page 106
In the very next chapter on legal liability:
The most common transgressions resulting in legal action are employment related. A board is responsible to put in place policies that prevent violations, including these especially vulnerable areas:
Discrimination in hiring and promotion, and wrongful discharge. Courts and the general public have become very sensitive to matters related to race, gender and age discrimination. Even apart from the law, matters of discrimination should be of concern to directors. Even an unproven accusation can be damaging to an organization’s reputation. – page 110
6. This book is the fruit of long experience.
Stories from the author’s experience with Habitat for Humanity and other organizations help to illustrate and enliven his points.To illustrate how board members in the minority support a board majority, he shares this story:
A church in Oklahoma had a hard time deciding whether or not to build a new sanctuary. The action was not unanimous, but construction began with members participating in the construction. One morning, six members were shingling the roof. The turnout was disappointing. The weather was unpleasant. During a break, one of the members said, “And to think, I did not even vote for this building.” It turned out that none of them had voted for it, and there they were shingling it! – page 54
7. At the same time, it recognizes the limits of current knowledge and practice.
On the relationship between governance and management, between the board and the CEO, the author writes:
In the past two decades, the tendency has been for nonprofit boards to follow the lead of for-profit boards and to become more CEO-centric. More time is needed to determine if this trend is good or bad. – page 10
8. This book includes practical help.
Ideas on how best to identify and nominate good board members, how to take good minutes, and other practicalities are discussed positively, clearly, and simply. Forms for board self-assessment, CEO annual review and search checklist, a brief governance guide for start-ups are included as additional material.
9. This book is highly accessible and designed for sharing.
I read part of the chapter on leadership as an opening for our church council, and noticed that two of our council members referred back to it during the course of our meeting. Each chapter ends with several discussion questions. For example:
How well does your board know its membership and what they value and expect? How well does your board keep its membership or constituency informed? How well are your board and the programs understood by your membership or constituency? How can you increase ownership and deeper loyalty? – page 44
I hope this has whetted your appetite for more! If you’re on a board or church council, what kind of orientation or education did you have in preparation for your role? What do you need to be more effective? Doing Good Better is an excellent book for all board/council members and church libraries. I received a complimentary copy of this book from Skyhorse Publishing with no requirement for a positive review, but it definitely lived up to my expectations.
Next Up: What Readers Are Saying – a selection of reader comments that people haven’t wanted to post publicly, but I think would benefit a wider readership. Comments will appear unattributed and by permission to respect confidentiality. If you’d like to receive this and future posts by email, please sign up for free email updates.