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Wednesday, December 13, 2017

LESSON 4 - Do Unwritten Board Policies Really Exist?

Welcome to Lessons From the Nonprofit Boardroom Blog, a 40-week journey through the new book, Lessons From the Nonprofit Boardroom, by Dan Busby and John Pearson. Each Wednesday, we're featuring a guest writer’s favorite snippet from the week's topic. Bob Andringa is our guest blogger this week for the first of four lessons in "Part 2: Boardroom Tools, Templates, and Typos."

LESSON 4 OF 40 - Do Unwritten Board Policies Really Exist?
Can't find that 10-year-old policy? You need a BPM.

 In Lesson 4, John and Dan point us to the best “governance operating system” for ministry boards, large or small—a Board Policies Manual (BPM). 

A BPM contains (a) ALL the on-going policies a board needs to address, (b) in ONE organized document (maybe 20 pages with some attachments), (c) that is reviewed at every board meeting based on new data and new wisdom from the Lord.  Who on a board can remember all the “policies” contained in years of minutes?!  

A BPM solves many common issues that make boards dysfunctional.  Once you have one, and keep it current, you will never convene board meetings without it.

MY FAVORITE INSIGHTS from Lesson 4, pages 14-20: 
This chapter affirmed my 23-year love affair with a BPM and I am grateful for its reference to one of my own books. Lesson 4 prompted so many good insights as to the WHY and the HOW of starting and maintaining a BPM.  These are key:  

• Since no one rereads minutes after a few years, policies still relevant in a court of law get lost in the files.  Besides, old ad hoc motions in the minutes often conflict with one another and don’t make sense for guiding future decisions.
The oral tradition doesn’t and should not work for boards that take governance seriously.   
• An up-to-date, organized BPM serves many purposes. It allows a new board member or new CEO to get up to speed fast; saves time by not rehashing issues already addressed in the BPM; helps the board stay focused on what it must do (governance) rather than what it may be tempted to do (management).
• A small board committee might be the best way to draft a first BPM for board review (but the CEO might be an alternative drafter).  

Really, any organization that wants governance to be more than mediocre needs a BPM.  The original concept came in a 1994 book by John Carver. He was gracious enough to allow my co-author, Fred Laughlin, and me to write Good Governance for Nonprofits: Developing Principles and Policies for an Effective Board.

For every hour spent on creating and maintaining a Board Policies Manual, at least three hours of board and committee meetings will be saved before too long. It’s a “living document,” always reflecting the latest wisdom of the board.

No BPM—even when amended several times a year—reflects perfection. But it does help in recruiting new board members and CEOs. It builds trust between the board and CEO because they are working off the same song sheet. It saves time because well-crafted policies allow decisions to be made in accordance with the BPM between board meetings. Showing a BPM to major donors or foundations gives them confidence your ministry is well led.  

Like the Rich Stearns quote on page 14 of Lessons, you can enjoy a long governance honeymoon as a CEO or board member by creating your own BPM. Why wait? Hundreds (perhaps thousands now) of ministries are moving from good to great with their customized BPM. A good BPM contains dozens of best practices. For a free downloadable primer on the What, Why and How of a BPM, visit The Andringa Group website and download “Introduction to Board Policies Manual” and get started.


Dr. Bob Andringa is active in “re-firement” after a diverse career that included: university administrator, military officer, congressional committee staff director, gubernatorial campaign manager, director of policy research for that successful governor in Minnesota, CEO of the Education Commission of the States and the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities, and a governance consultant to more than 400 faith-based nonprofit CEOs and their boards. Bob and his wife, Sue, live in Scottsdale, Ariz., and have two grown sons. 

• Read Lessons From the Nonprofit Boardroom, then may I (humbly) suggest you read my book, Good Governance for Nonprofits.  
Click here to download an updated BPM template you can customize for your board.


On Dec. 20, 2017, watch for Ed McDowell's color commentary on Lesson 5, "Before the Board Meeting - Collaborate, then wisely build the board meeting agenda."

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