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Tim McDermott “Help! My Board is Too Slow”

If you have worked with a board for any length of time, then you know boards can be very slow in making decisions.  This can be very frustrating and sometimes may mean missed opportunities for your organization to grow. I have worked with boards for years and know firsthand. The only thing slower than a board is a board with many lawyers on it. I remember one time working with a board to update one of our key ministry documents. We had four lawyers on the committee.  Ugh. I was so frustrated by how long it was taking that I said during one of the meetings, “If you all were writing one verse of the Bible – we would still be working on it.”  (Make sure your job is secure before you make comments like that.)


So what can you do to speed the process up?  Here are a few tips I have learned.


1- Never ask the board to come up with an idea or recommendation on their own.Instead, you should be going to them with your idea seeking their approval.  They can say yes or no – or modify the recommendation. They aren’t subject matter experts. You and your team are.  It will take them a long time to come up with an idea and sometimes their ideas are ones that you wouldn’t even consider. That puts you in a real awkward place so don’t go down that path.

2- Don’t grow your board too big. The more people there are on the board – the more people you have to inform which means it will take more time. The smaller the board the quicker the decision. Many states require at least three people on a board and ECFA requires at least five (a majority of whom must be independent).I have seen a lot of organizations have 7 to 11 board members.  If you are larger than that a common practice is to form committees to specialize in areas such as Finance, Governance and Strategy (Never form an HR Committee – that is a sign you are asking the board to get involved in managing). Board members are placed on committees based on their gifting and interest which normally produces quicker and better decisions.  Also, consider forming an Executive Committees who are empowered to do a lot of the work.  NRB has a very large board and they have an Executive Committee who do a lot of work for the board.  Executive Committees still report to the board and should have their actions approved by the full board at the next full board meeting.

3- Think ahead. Boards are naturally risk averse.I have always been amazed how individual members of boards in their own private business take on all kinds of risks but once they go on a non-profit board, they become ultra conservative and don’t want to take any risks. I want to say – what happened? They seem to feel a certain weight and become very cautious.  That means when you have a big idea you want them to approve, really think it through. What questions will the board ask?  Is there a need for research?  Run your idea by a few of the board members first to see what questions they might have. Once you have your idea, present it to the board in writing well in advance of the meeting. There is nothing a board member hates more than to get a document at a meeting and be expected to approve it right then.  


One final note.  Just because you don’t get the decision you want in the time span you want doesn’t mean the board is being slow. It may be the hand of God at work.  I remember years ago when I was in Houston we wanted to purchase time on a TV station to promote the radio station. We had several meetings, and the board committee went round and round and round but didn’t approve what we wanted.  Many months later, through a connection with a church we learned that a half hour TV slot was available for less than the price of an individual TV commercial.  This opportunity would mean reaching more people and we could even run our own ads on the program with no additional cost.  We also got free promotional time on the TV station during the week.  What we thought was delay was God working to give us something better.  Once we presented this to the board committee, they quickly and unanimously approved this decision! 


Tim McDermott is a Financial and Management Consultant. You can reach him at Tim@Tmcdermottcpa.com

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