There are estimated to be about 1.5 million non-profit organizations in the United States and over 330,000 churches with a combined annual budget of over $800 billion dollars. Each of these has, or should have, a board of directors. If each board only had nine members, that would mean there are almost 16,500,000 board members of non-profit organizations in the United States! That is a lot of people, a lot of responsibility and a lot of time being invested.
Chances are either you or someone you know is involved with a board of directors somehow. The following is a list of the top 4 trends that we have recently observed on the board scene.
1. Caught between a rock and a hard place.
Christian non-profit boards, especially churches, are distinct from other non-profit boards because 1) they must fulfill both legal and spiritual responsibilities and 2) the board members are often the recipients of the services offered by the ministry they govern.
At times, this can create awkwardness at best and perceived conflict of interest at worst since the board members can sometimes forget which hat they are wearing: board hat or participant hat. To be effective, you must know which hat you are wearing (personal or board) and be constantly reminded that your goals and needs are subordinate to the goals and needs of the ministry.
Board members are still expected to fulfill their fiduciary/accountability responsibilities though these responsibilities may not require significant time and may not be very challenging.
This is true when an organization is in a time of steady operations without major changes inside or outside the organization. It is also especially true as an organization gets larger and hires more professional staff to fulfill positions which skilled board members once volunteered in. Since board members have been acculturated into these roles, frustration and conflict with staff often results.
3. Not enough to go around.
The shortage of younger leaders with the right skills and experience needed by boards combined with having 1.5 million 501c3 organizations can result in the decreasing ability to attract and retain highly skilled thinkers and leaders. In other words, there may be more non-profits in need of skilled board members than there are board members to recruit; there are not enough to go around!
This sometimes results in boards accepting members that are not adequately qualified or are not a good fit. Some refer to this as the “if they can fog a mirror” test, a metaphor for “if they have a heartbeat, they are good enough.”
4. Times are changing.
It used to be that boards seldom experienced change. They were steady and predictable, and they functioned the same way year after year.
However, the emergence of a slow but powerful tsunami including cultural, demographic, world view and technological shifts, will significantly alter the nature of board leadership for most non-profits including social services, schools, camps, churches and missions. Boards will need to grow smaller, eliminate “board member for life” by ensuring rotation, adjust the types of members they recruit based upon what the organization is facing, and meet less frequently but as often as needed to fulfill their role.
Building an effective board can be a tricky thing. There are many variables that need to be just right. For help with making your board more effective, read the article "Building Healthy and Effective Boards" in our book GUIDE – Building the Team. Setting the Direction. Fulfilling the Mission.
Jay is the Executive Director of The Center and serves on the Senior Leadership Team at Calvary Church in Souderton. Jay brings experience in the areas of ministry assessment, leadership coaching, decision-making, and strategic questioning. Jay’s degrees include a B.S. in Bible, a M.Ed in Instructional Systems Design and a Ph.D. in Organizational Behavior and Leadership.