February 26, 2019

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Paul Zilz

Your Members Can Make a Real Difference in a Way You May Never Have Thought Possible

Role clarity for members is often a topic I address with a church interested in improving its ability to achieve its mission. This issue arises because the church leadership is interested in moving from a member-managed organization to a board-governed organization, using John Carver’s system of Policy Governance®. Ensuring members have a proper understanding of their roles in a board-governed organization is very important to increase the probability of successfully making and sustaining this transition in governance. 

In most member-driven organizations, almost everyone from the members to the organizational leadership understands two of the three roles of the member. But it is the third role that is critically important to ensuring accountability in a board-governed organization. 

First, the member is a customer of the organization. In a church, this means the member receives the benefits of attending worship and participating in various programs offered by the church. This relationship is between the member and the ministry leadership staff. If a member has certain preferences regarding programming and services, those preferences are made known to the ministry leadership staff. In this case, the ministry staff relate to the members as customers and may occasionally seek out member-customer input on the services and programs being provided.

Secondly, the member serves as a volunteerwithin the organization. In most churches and in many not-for-profit organizations, limited funding means that volunteers help ensure the mission moves forward. These unpaid volunteer members are usually critically important to helping the organization achieve the intended benefits for the intended recipients in an efficient manner, what Policy Governance calls the “Ends.” In a church using Policy Governance, the board will delegate to the Lead Pastor, perhaps, the means to achieve these Ends within a set of ethical and prudence limitations. The Lead Pastor, in turn, is free to use his choice of means to achieve the Ends as long as those means comply with the board-established limitations. Clearly, volunteers provide significant and critical help, under the direction of the Lead Pastor, in achieving those Ends. 

While those first two roles of a member are well understood, the third role, though often misunderstood or not even recognized, is critically important to the successful and accountable governing of the organization. The member also is an “owner”of the organization. In some not-for-profit organizations such as churches, members may be considered the legal owners of the organization and may have certain limited but significant powers that are not delegated to the board or operational management. In other cases, members may be considered the “moral owners,” the shareholders, so to speak, of the organization. In any case, the relationship of the member- as- owner is with the board. 

Ownership is important for a board of servant-leaders because such a board understands that it is not self-perpetuating and self-absorbed; rather, this board recognizes its authority is derived from the ownership and it is accountable to them to ensure organizational success and protection from unethical or imprudent actions. Accordingly, as the board gains experience using Policy Governance, it will develop a systematic and on-going plan to connect with the owners. This allows the board to gather decision information regarding the owners’ values regarding who should be the customers, what those customers should receive in benefits, and the worth or efficiency of producing those results (Ends, in shorthand). The board also will provide regular feedback to the owners regarding what Ends-related information it has received from the various representative ownership segments and how the board has used that information. 

Members may initially sense they will no longer be able to make a significant organizational impact if they are not managing one-step-up from the operational leadership. However, as members recognize their roles as customer and volunteer will not change and begin to more fully comprehend that they now have an impact as owners on what the organization is for and the difference that organization will make in people’s lives, they will begin to see themselves as a vital source of board decision information. This Ends-related decision information from owners enables the board to govern as an effective group of servant-leaders: transparently, strategically, with a future-focus, and as the informed agent of the owners. Listening to owners in order to discern owners’ values regarding the organization’s Ends empowers the board to govern effectively as ownership one-step-down.

If your board wants to investigate what it means to move from a management one-step-up approach to serving as ownership one-step-down, contact us at The Governance Coach. 

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