Who in the long list of Bible characters, perhaps with the exception of Jesus and Paul, would you nominate for your organization’s Board of Directors? This is not only fun to think about, but it might be an interesting board retreat idea!
First on my list would be Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses. What attracts me to Jethro is his visit to Moses and the Israelites (Exodus 18). Perhaps best known for his plan to organize the judgement and decision-making process of Moses, Jethro’s key principles for the Israelites are still pertinent to governance boards today. Moses’s existing model was limiting – Jethro recognized this, and with wisdom guided/coached Moses toward a future and “sustainable” model. He’s the perfect board member.
Moses, as the Israelites’ leader (or CEO), really needed someone “from the outside” who proactively listened and was delighted, supportive, and encouraging about all the good things happening. Moses also needed someone who understood what he was doing (engaged), who would ask insightful and clarifying questions, would correct when appropriate, and then suggest positive solutions for the future. But more importantly, Moses needed someone who would show genuine care for both him and the mission. Jethro, like good board members today, cared deeply for the CEO. “You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone.” (Ex. 18:18)
Jethro was the coach/mentor Moses needed to accomplish the mission, and the guiding voice to ensure that the journey to the Promised Land was feasible and sustainable.
Sustainable organizations need energized CEOs – successful CEOs need thriving boards.
Organizations fulfill their missions and achieve impact with God-honoring excellence when cared for by competent boards. The board’s first priority is to nurture, guide, and hold accountable the right CEO who is given space to accomplish the purposes of the organization. Sustainable organizations need energized CEOs – successful CEOs need thriving boards.
Although many ministry and business leaders may not be fortunate enough to have a Jethro in their lives, they will always be accountable to a Board of Directors. Excellent CEOs leading sustainable organizations are governed by not just good boards, but thriving boards. For more detail on this concept see my article “7 Habits for a Thriving Nonprofit Board.”
What then is required of thriving boards to foster sustainability in nonprofit ministries and organizations today?
- Called Directors – The first and most critical (though obvious) principle is that every board member is committed, passionate and called to the specific mission/purpose of the organization. They realize that to serve on a nonprofit board is more than just “community service”— it is in fact a noble calling (Philippians 4:8). Governing boards composed of called directors govern and guide organizations with passion and commitment, not only for today, but by positively positioning them for the future.
- Missional Focus – It is key to sustainability. True to the organization’s identity (vision, mission, and values), called directors lead with fidelity, alignment, and conviction, guarding what is important, and critical without diluting the organization’s identity. Sustainability, requires focus on the main thing. Board members are ultimately the guardians or trustees of the mission. If there is mission drift, it starts with the board and not keeping this principle the first priority in their governance. CEOs transition. Leaders’ transition. The board is however the continuum to the purpose, and core to the organization’ sustainability. However, sustainability is a process and not an event, for success today does not guarantee the future.
- Strategic Thinking – For a board to facilitate sustainability, it must not only focus on today, but must concurrently be thinking strategically. What are those external opportunities and threats that must be addressed to thrive? With so many opportunities being presented in a disruptive world, being strategic in taking advantage of opportunities, and mitigating threats is a vital board process.
- A Unified Voice – Scanning the external landscape is the first step; however, just as important is the board’s relationship with the CEO. Sustainability is promoted when absolute and agreed clarity exists, in role and relationship, between the board and CEO. One unified voice of the board, expressed by the CEO to the organization, brings consistency, clarity and commitment. What better starting point is there to ensure sustainability?
Thriving boards are critical to sustainability. Excellent boards partner with the CEO in focus, purpose, strategy and stewardship. They do so to ensure not only the matters of the day, but to guide, just like Jethro, success for the future.
Dr. John C. Reynolds is President of Los Angeles Pacific University, an online Christian University in California. His passions include Christian higher education, board development, strategic-thinking, and coaching/consulting in international contexts. (firstname.lastname@example.org)