What kind of Board do you have?

Jack Peterson
Managing for Mission

Nearly every faith-based school has some kind of board. It may be called a commission or a council. It may be advisory or policy-setting. But there is some group that provides community representation and guidance to assure the school is responsive to, and supported by, the community it serves. Linking to the communities they serve is of paramount importance for faith-based schools. But how boards function in that connecting role can seem more like alchemy that science. They vary in their authority, structure, level of engagement and operating style.

It’s often difficult for board members and others to put their finger on just what the board is supposed to be doing and how it should do it. A good place to start is understanding what kind of board a school has. This post reviews the variations and their ramifications. Think of it as sort of a field guide for boards.

Authority

To identify what kind of Board your school has, the first characteristic to look at is its authority. If the board is a true governing body, it sets high-level policy, hires, evaluates and dismisses (when necessary) the chief administrator and has ultimate fiduciary responsibility for the assets of the school.

However, many boards are advisory only. Their schools are generally owned by their religious sponsor, like a diocese, parish or a religious order, which therefore has ultimate authority and fiduciary responsibility. So the local board is advisory only, offering various perspectives and expertise but not itself setting policy.

There are advantages to a school being owned by its sponsor, especially if that entity has deep pockets and robust staffing to deal with the challenges that arise. Unfortunately, that circumstance is becoming rare. Religious orders and dioceses are finding themselves stretched thin and not able to meet the financial needs of their schools. Unfortunately, the response has often been to simply close them.

But most orders, and now many dioceses, are moving beyond ownership, recognizing that they can assure fidelity more effectively through sponsorship processes. They are shifting governance to more autonomous local boards. For this shift to local governance to work, however, requires accountability for the mission entrusted by the sponsor, and unfortunately, advisory boards are ill-equipped to shoulder that responsibility.

Structure

As governance has evolved, some faith-based schools find themselves with more than one board. They may have a Board of Directors or Trustees, which has policy making authority. But they may also have above them a group known as Corporate Members or a Board of Members, who retain ultimate ownership authority.

A Corporate Member can be a bishop, a religious superior or her or his delegates. They will often reserve a few key powers, like setting the by-laws or approving large financial transactions, and delegate all the rest to the local governing board. This structure is one way to assure fidelity to the faith-based mission, but empower the local community to take responsibility for the school’s operating needs.

Some schools have an advisory board in addition to a governing board. And some schools have three levels of governance: a Member Board, a Governing Board, and an Advisory Board. Multi-tiered governance structures are cumbersome and lead to confusion about who is responsible for what.

Most schools are evolving toward a single Board. Religious orders which have relied on Boards of Members to oversee the governing boards are finding it more effective to use a sponsorship process much like accreditation. And governing boards, rather than maintaining a separate advisory board, find it more effective to use their own committee structure to involve additional people.

Engagement
Regardless of authority and structure, to be effective, boards must have a high level of engagement.

In my work with schools, I have found that many boards are passive. They meet rarely, and when they do they mostly hear reports from the administration. Other boards are more active in their engagement and have clear responsibilities, like approving the budget or high-level personnel policies. Still others are proactive, using strategic planning to prepare the school for new realities in the years ahead.

And some boards are overactive, crossing into operational areas that are best entrusted to the school administration. The sweet spot for boards in most cases will be the pro-active level. Here the school receives the full benefit of the board’s collective expertise without the intrusion into operational concerns that it has neither the time nor agility to address effectively.

Style

The final characteristic for identifying your board is its style, which can vary from informal to formal. An informal style may be attractive because it feels simpler and more expeditious. As boards evolve however, they need more consistent processes and written procedures as a way to make sure that complex matters are addressed appropriately.

For example, they may feel that bringing on new members without a formal vetting and nominating process is working just fine. In many cases, it probably is. But it is difficult to achieve the diversity, community leadership and skill sets of a high performing board without a thoughtful selection process.

So what kind of board does your school have, and what kind of board does it need?

Do you have an advisory board because your school is owned by your order or diocese? It may be increasingly difficult to find consistent and robust support from your sponsor because their resources are spread thin. But you may also find an advisory board to be passive, because it doesn’t bear ultimate responsibility and wouldn’t have the necessary authority if it did. Your challenge is to find ways to empower it by entrusting it with meaningful responsibility.

Do you work in a multi-level governance model, where making decisions can be cumbersome, and it’s not always clear who has what responsibility? Your challenge is to achieve clarity and a high level of trust among the different players. This requires sustained attention to process and personalities.

Is your board operating more like a mom and pop outfit than the governing board of an important and complex organization? Your challenge will be to help the board understand the importance of its work and commit itself to processes that better match the caliber, or desired caliber, of the school.

Any of these models can be made to work, but it requires recognizing which reality you’re living in, and what challenges stem from your model. Responding thoughtfully will move the school toward a governance structure that will better match its current and future needs. The effort may be complex and at times taxing. But it is probably the most important thing you can do to assure your school’s viability in the face of the challenges ahead.

If you need help, our website at managingformission.com has many downloadable resources. And I’m always happy to answer questions if you email me at JackPeterson@ManagingForMission.com

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Implementing the Strategic Plan

Jack Peterson
Managing for Mission

I love developing strategic plans. Done right, they align a school community toward an inspiring vision for what the school needs to be, and can be. But whether a plan is successful or not depends on what happens after the plan document is finalized and distributed.

Before I began working with other schools on their strategic plans, I had the unusual opportunity to lead the formulation of four strategic plans during 32 years of administration at one school. With each plan, I learned more about what makes them not only visionary, but effective. The key is what I call the Annual Implementation Plan or AIP.

After months of gathering input and building ownership for the school’s Strategic Plan, people often breathe a sigh of relief, saying, “mission accomplished,” and get back to their normal routines. But the whole point of strategic planning is to lift the school above the routine to create its desired future.   The completion of the Strategic Plan is just the starting point for crafting that future. It must be followed by a rigorous tactical planning process to determine how it will be implemented.

Sometimes schools try to incorporate the Implementation Plan into the Strategic Plan. It sounds attractive to get the vision and all the x’s and o’s down on paper at once. But there are three reasons why this isn’t an optimal approach. First, combining strategy and tactics weighs down the Strategic Plan. People get caught up in the tactics instead of aligning around the overall direction the school is headed, which is the role of a Strategic Plan.

Second, implementation will require some flexibility. It can’t all be choreographed five or more years in advance. Having a combination Strategic and Tactical plan will be too rigid to adapt to changing circumstances.

And third, Strategic Planning and Tactical planning involve different people. The Strategic Plan is big picture and involves a wide range of people to make sure it has broad ownership and is responsive to the community’s needs. Implementation has to be owned primarily by the team of professionals who run the school. Administration, faculty and staff are the ones responsible for integrating it into the operations of the school, from curriculum changes to employee engagement, plant management and fundraising. They must collaborate with the broader community, but that community rightly expects them to take the leadership.

The instrument I use for tactical planning is called an Annual Implementation Plan because it is done annually, prior to the beginning of the school year. Each year the administrative team commits to the steps it will take that year toward attainment of the school’s longer-range strategic goals.

The most difficult Annual Implementation Plan, or AIP, will be the first. Imagine yourself in the forest and you have to cross a stream to get where you’re going. The Strategic Plan tells you that you need to do to get to the other side. The Implementation Plan tells you which stepping stones you’ll use to get there. I like to have administrators start thinking about those stepping stones as soon as possible, when the Strategic Goals begin to take shape. The initial focus will be on the first stone. That’s AIP Year one.

For each Strategic Goal, the question to be asked is what do we need to get done to lead toward its accomplishment? The stepping stones are what we call Objectives. The administrative team identifies each Objective, as well as the administrator who will lead its accomplishment. That administrator is tasked with preparing an Objective Implementation Plan or OIP, which spells out in some detail what the Objective is, the steps to accomplishing it, who needs to be involved and how much budget will be required.

Under the leadership of the chief administrator, the draft OIPs are shared with the other members of the school’s administrative team and finalized based on their input. Just as the Strategic Goals are the backbone of the Strategic Plan, the Objectives which are critical for Year One form the backbone of that year’s Annual Implementation Plan. The chief administrator compiles and organizes these Objectives into an AIP document which he or she will present to the Board for its confirmation and use it to guide implementation steps taken during the year.

At the end of the year, the administrative team will revisit the Objective Implementation Plans, adjust them as needed and then identify the Objectives which will be critical for the next year of implementation. These will then form the Annual Implementation Plan for Year Two.

The process is a little more complex than that, but I want to give you the overall approach. The key things to remember are 1) Separate the implementation planning from the strategic planning process, 2) have the administrative team begin the implementation planning even before the Strategic Plan is finalized and 3) make sure the administrative team, under the direction of the chief administrator, is fully engaged in formulating and operationalizing the plan every year. If you don’t do this, you may have a beautiful Strategic Plan, beautifully collecting dust.

The Resources tab of our website at www.ManagingForMission.com has more information about planning, including another tutorial about creating the Strategic Plan. I’d also be happy to answer any questions you have about implementation planning, if you email me at JackPeterson@ManagingForMission.com.

I’m grateful for all you do to support your school’s efforts to shape its future according to its mission. Thanks especially for making sure that your Strategic Plan becomes a reality through effective implementation planning. May God continue to bless you in your work.

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President-Principal Relationship

Jack Peterson
Managing for Mission

The president-principal model was first being pioneered by Jesuit schools in the 1970’s and has now become common among Catholic and other faith-based schools. It has helped schools meet the challenges of a changing educational environment, but it presents a few challenges of its own.

It used to be that a school head or principal could manage the academic affairs of a school and maintain a limited relationship with the environment beyond the campus. But as the temporal demands of schools have increased, it’s clear that managing the financial, facilities, fundraising, planning, and community relations aspects of a school are more than a full-time job. Schools have found they need robust leadership that is both inward and outward facing. Hence the president-principal model.

The president’s role falls into three main areas: Mission, Resources and Presence. Let’s take a moment to look at these three.

Mission is the core of who we are as schools. School presidents interpret the official mission statement approved by the Board and make it come alive for the school community. They weave it explicitly and implicitly into every decision they make and into their formal and informal communications. They must call themselves, the employees, students and other members of the community to be accountable to that mission. And they must lead the school team in finding the best ways to accomplish it.

Second, the president is responsible for securing Resources needed for the school to succeed in its work. He or she shares this responsibility with the Board, as well the development, finance and facilities teams, but the president must be visibly active in attracting the resources needed so that the educational professionals can carry out their work at an optimum level.

Finally, the president is responsible for Presence. As the chief administrator, he or she is a symbol for the school and what it values. The president’s presence at a school or community event, to a grieving family or to important supporters signals their importance to the school. How the president conducts him or herself among the people who serve or are served by the school puts a human face on its mission and makes it real as nothing else can.

The principal, on the other hand, has a unique leadership responsibility for programs, school climate and faculty development. This is a huge job, really the heart of what the school does and who it is. Programs include not only the curriculum, but extra-curriculars, and student formation. School climate includes the culture, fabric of relationships and the physical and emotional safety of the students. And professional development includes hiring and evaluating, as well as the personal, professional and spiritual growth of the faculty and how they collaborate to create a coherent educational experience for the students.

Having said this, the principal also has responsibility for mission, presence and resources, but it is primarily to the internal community. It isn’t that the principal is confined to campus, but there is no way he or she can provide the cura personalis, or care for persons, needed by faculty and students if they also have to do so with the broader community.

Both are leaders, important leaders, in the school. And their leadership will overlap. Each must be a person of vision who is able to exercise authority. But what happens when the visions conflict? What happens when the exercise of authority overlaps? When the external demands conflict with the internal demands? This isn’t necessarily common, but when it does happen, it can lead quickly to dysfunction that can hamper both the president and the principal, and ultimately the school itself.

In some cases, the president and the principal will have similar skill sets. The president may have been a principal prior to becoming a president. In this case, he or she might have strong opinions about curriculum and faculty development. It may be difficult to resist intruding into the domain of the principal to make decisions where the president may feel very confident. Perhaps more confident than he or she is with some of his or her newer responsibilities.

In other cases, the skill sets may be so divergent that they lack sufficient understanding and appreciation of each other’s role. They rely on each other to do their jobs well, which means they need to understand the other’s responsibilities enough to provide appropriate support. The ideal is for the two to recognize that they have complementary jobs and have, or are developing, complementary skill sets. Presidents must resist micro-managing, even when they are sure they know what decision the principal should make. And principals must resist overstepping their authority, even when they are responding to the needs of their faculty and students.

For the president-principal model to work, the approach must be collaborative. Even though the president is ultimately the boss, he or she should want the principal to be a strong leader and have enough respect for the role of the principal that he or she doesn’t simply pull rank at every turn.

Research by the Jesuit Schools Network and my own research and experience suggest that the key to a successful president-principal relationship is a high level of mutual trust. And such trust requires regular and open communication. It can also be said that regular and open communication requires trust. So the president and principal must give themselves time to foster both trust and communication. As hard as it is to find the time for that, it will pay rich dividends for themselves and for everyone else who works with them.

I believe that an important part of communication is a supportive and consistent evaluation process of the principal by the president. This includes an annual, “summative” evaluation structured to make sure the president fully appreciates the challenges faced by the principal, as well as his or her accomplishments. It also should assure that the principal fully understands the appreciation the president has for his or her work, as well as the president’s expectations.

But evaluation should also include “formative” feedback, both formal and informal. The story of the woman who asked her husband why he never tells her he loves her is instructive. His answer was that he told her when he married her 40 years ago that he loved her, and if anything changed, he would let her know. Not a great way to strengthen a relationship. Both the president and the principal should complement each other when the other does a good job and encourage each other when the going is tough.

And it goes beyond that. As two highly visible leaders they need to support each other publicly. At any public event where one of them is speaking he or she should take the opportunity to introduce and express their confidence in the other. This isn’t just a way of increasing trust between them, but increasing trust in them as the leadership team of the school.

We have more information about best practices for leadership and governance, as well as free resources, like video tutorials, tools and templates, on our website at www.managingformission.com. Please feel free to use these resources as you like to help you or others in your work, and don’t hesitate to contact me at JackPeterson@ManagingForMission.com if I can help you with a specific question. God bless, –Jack

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MfM Tutorials on Governance & Administration

Jack Peterson
Managing for Mission

This month’s post is a compendium of video tutorials on faith-based school management produced by Managing for Mission over the last 4 years, all in one place. With a new school year beginning, it’s a good time to remember as administrators and trustees that, like our students, we also need to keep growing and learning. And if you’ve been trying to explain some of these best practices to someone else at your school, you can send them the link to a tutorial instead. They can also be accessed on MfM’s YouTube Channel, or in the original blog posts by using the search function in the panel at the right of the screen.

Strategic Planning for Faith-based Schools 6:31 min.

1.pngThis tutorial explains how faith-based schools can do Strategic Planning which is truly strategic, broadly owned and implementation oriented. Such planning is critical to the survival and growth of faith-based schools. Given the dependence of the school on its support community, its planning method requires some special characteristics. Take a few minutes to find out what those are.

Setting Goals in a Faith-based School 6:26 min.

2.png

A step by step process for setting annual Board goals, showing charts and tools used. This same process can be used in other group goal setting situations, e.g. setting administrative or committee goals, or setting goals as part of strategic planning.

 Four Models in a Faith-based School 5:01 min.

3.pngThe leaders of faith-based schools must manage not just a business model, but three other models in order to accomplish their mission. This video explores the relationship of the school’s Apostolic, Pedagogical, Community and Business models.

Chain of Care 3:22 min.

4.pngEveryone in the school – whether teacher, administrator, or trustee – is part of a Chain of Care that supports the students’ experience of God’s loving, creative presence in their lives. “Managing for mission” means strengthening that Chain to transform students’ lives. Learn more about the importance of the Chain of Care and how it works in this video tutorial.

Diversity in the Faith-based School 2 parts 3:28 & 4:58 min.

5.pngAs president of Bellarmine Prep, Jack Peterson knew there were some communities that were under-represented in the school and students from them often had trouble feeling fully welcome.  He decided he wanted to find out why and it began a journey of revelation and treasured relationships. In this tutorial, he shares the four questions that he learned need to be answered honestly.  And he shares a few practical approaches that make a big difference.

Development Plan for a Faith-based School 7:54 min.

6.pngFaith-based schools rely heavily on fundraising to maintain quality programs and relieve pressure on tuition. Because of the unpredictable nature of donated funds and the tendency for immediate demands to take all our energy, every school should have a written, trackable Development Plan. This tutorial explains how to formulate an effective plan with an accompanying free template available at ManagingForMission.com on our Resources page.

5 Requisites for Development Success 4:26 min. 

7.pngManaging for Mission’s Jack Peterson explains the 5 core requisites faith-based schools need to focus on to achieve their fund development potential. These 5 should drive strategy, time invested and performance evaluations, by both the Board and Administration.

8 Steps of a Major Gift Ask 6:21 min.

8.pngSuccess in procuring major gifts is key to effective fund development for faith-based schools. This tutorial breaks down the eight essential elements, from preparation, to making the ask, to following up. And it explains how to ask in a way consistent with the mission of the school.

Branding for Faith-based Schools 7:01 min.

9.pngMany types of schools are competing for resources and for students in an ever-changing environment. To succeed, they need to be clear not just about their mission, but their brand–how that mission is actually experienced by school families and potential school families. This tutorial explains basic concepts and approaches to branding for faith-based school as the foundation of marketing strategy.

The Board’s Role in a Faith-based School 7:57 min.

10.pngHealthy boards are crucial to their schools’ vitality and connect them to the communities they serve. Yet their role is often misunderstood. Jack Peterson explains the board’s role in a faith-based school and how board members and administrators can clarify the various hats trustees wear, so that these complementary components of the leadership team can fully contribute to the school’s success.

4 Best Practices to Becoming a Great Board 8:10 min.

11.pngThe 2nd tutorial in the Board Basics series discusses best practices for becoming a great board in four areas: Recruitment, Formation, Self-evaluation and the Board Policy Manual.

 

4 Best Practices for Doing the Board’s Work 6:22 min.

12.pngThis third tutorial in the Board Basics series explores four areas where proven approaches can ramp up the faith-based board’s effectiveness: committees, strategic planning, evaluation of the chief administrator and board philanthropy. Hopefully every school’s board is paying attention to these areas, but they may not be aware of a few key tools that make all the difference to the school’s accomplishment of its mission.

Discernment for Boards – Introduction 3:12 min.

13.pngThis Introduction is the first in a series of five tutorials about group discernment. These tutorials apply the principles of discernment developed by Ignatius of Loyola to the decision-making process of boards, and particularly those of faith-based schools.

The Spirit of Discernment 5:27 min.

14.pngThis is the second tutorial in MfM’s Board Discernment series. It explains the spirituality that underlies Ignatian Discernment and how boards can embrace that spirit and incorporate Ignatius’ insights into their decision-making.

The Habit of Discernment 5:48 min.

15.pngBy developing the habit of discernment in our daily lives, we can better participate in the discernment which boards must do together. This tutorial explains four habits that will strengthen decision-making in our personal and professional lives, as well as our work on the board.

The 6 Components of Discernment 5:42 min.

16.pngIn this 4th tutorial in MfM’s series on Board Discernment, we discuss the six components that are part of every group discernment. By giving advanced thought to these six components, and adapting them to our particular group and the questions it is facing, we can harness the power of God’s desire to see fruitfulness in our work and lives.

 The 4 Core Tools of Discernment 4:16 min.

17.pngIgnatian Discernment can seem so complex that boards put off embracing it. But the four Core Tools discussed in this tutorial are fairly easy to implement and can move trustees a long way toward becoming a truly discerning board.

Designing the Board Retreat 8:52 min.

18.pngThe boards of faith-based schools need dedicated time for work that can’t fit into their regular meetings. This includes planning, improving their own process, spiritual formation and team-building. This tutorial talks about how to incorporate all four of these elements into an effective and grace-filled board retreat.

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The Development Plan

Jack Peterson
Managing for Mission

Fund development is perhaps the hardest area of school management to plan for, and yet the area that needs planning most. The temptation is to say, “Well we’ll do our best and see what happens.” Given how much we depend on developed funds, that’s just not good enough.

I realize that there are many unpredictable elements in fundraising. But rather than being an argument against having a Development Plan, it’s actually a reason to be more intentional about our goals and how we intend to accomplish them. A written Development Plan keeps the advancement staff focused, widens the circle of those who can be involved, and gives the president and board a meaningful way to evaluate progress.

When I ask schools about their Development Plan, what they often show me looks more like calendar of events and appeals and how much they are expecting from each. The schools often feel these events and appeals are maxed out and the only way to increase revenue is to add another. I don’t want to denigrate this approach, but we can do better. To reach its full development potential the school must tap into the giving capacity of its donors and prospective donors. The question must shift from, “How much can this event or activity raise for us?” to “How much could our donors give if they were properly asked?”

In an earlier tutorial I presented the 5 Requisites for Development Success—Case, Prospects, Asks, Askers and Resources. Focusing on these five elements of the fundraising process will help us shift away from event-centric development to donor-centric development. Events and appeals reach a point of diminishing returns as we try to involve more people in what are mostly small transactions. We call that event-centric fundraising. Schools need to move toward realizing the aggregate giving capacity of the people who support, or would support, them. We call this donor-centric fundraising.

Managing for Mission has developed a template for formulating a donor-centric Development Plan. We offer you this template to lead the board and administration, development staff, and the development committee through a process of creating a collaborative plan for reaching the school’s full development capacity. You might want to download this template now to refer to as you read the following explanation of the process.

The Case Statement
In the first section of the template you will focus on the first of the 5 Essentials: The Case for support. Clearly, success depends on making a compelling case for support of the school. A Case is a value proposition in which the donor will see how their funds will be used. They need to see how they will benefit the school, its students, society at large and the donors themselves. The Case for support is based on the school’s mission and the strategic plan the school has formulated to accomplish that mission. It should be expressed in visionary and outcome-based language, but it also needs to identify important details about the school’s plan. I recommend including both operating needs and the bigger needs that might be sought in a capital campaign so that the school can see the whole picture.

The Case statement will eventually take different forms, adapted to various kinds of Asks and the types of marketing materials needed to support them. But this section of the Development Plan will serve as the source for shaping all versions of the Case Statement.

Prospects
In the next section you will focus on the 2nd of the 5 requisites: Prospects. Funding the school’s plans will require a few donors making large gifts and many other donors giving at various levels. Not all will give at the level we hope. They may have other priorities, financial constraints or simply aren’t used to giving yet. So the pool of potential donors must be significantly larger that the number of gifts we hope to receive. The template shows how to build a Gift Table indicating how many donors, giving at what levels, will be needed to raise a certain amount of money. Often filling in this table will itself provide the first glimpse of the feasibility of the school’s goals.

Asks
The 3rd Essential for Development Success is Asks. That we need to make enough asks to achieve our goals might seem so obvious it’s not worth mentioning. But for many schools, maybe most, it is the Achilles heel. Too few Asks are being made in the right way. There are 4 rights to a meaningful Ask: asking for the right purpose, at the right amount, in the right way, by the right person.

Events and appeals are ways of asking, and they will remain part of a complete Development Plan. But they can’t be the only way, because they generally don’t move donors toward their full giving potential. So this section of the template helps the school identify the best ways to ask top prospective donors.  It helps us determine where events fit into that strategy. And it lays out how we will track the process from identification to research to cultivation to asking to follow-up.

Askers
The 4th Essential for Success is Askers, people to do the asking. Again, events like auctions and annual giving appeals are ways of asking, but to realize the full potential of those who have the most potential, we need to ask them directly in the right way described earlier. This section will help determine what role school leadership and staff will play and what role volunteers will play. And it helps the school identify the training and support that will be needed to make these Askers successful.

Resources
The final Essential is Resources. What investment will the school have to make to be successful? The big items are salaries, technology, consultants, publications, donor recognition, events and entertainment and travel costs.

Key Steps
After the 5 requisites, the template has a section for key next steps. This is important because the complexity and long-term nature of the plan can tempt us to stay in the abstract. The purpose of the plan is not to plan, but to act. This section is updated constantly and shows what we need to be doing now, to end up where the plan is pointing us.

If you would like a free copy of our Development Plan Template, you can click here and find it on our RESOURCES web page, where you will also find a more detailed explanation about how to write and Development Plan using the template. Or you can email me at jackpeterson@managingformission.com. There are other resources on our website at managingformission.com to assist faith-based schools on development and other governance and administrative issues.

Thank you for all your efforts to make sure your school has the resources it needs to accomplish its mission. It’s a blessing to your students and to the world your school serves.

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Setting Board Goals

Jack Peterson
February 2018

Boards fly at the 30,000 foot level, but the brushfires that commonly occur in schools can take our eye off the big picture and put our navigation at risk. A good process for setting annual board goals can help us stay on course.

The goal setting process described in the following is well-suited for Boards, but it can also be used by administrative teams and as part of the strategic planning process. It incorporates an acronym that many of us are familiar with, producing SMART Goals. An internet search will come up with a variety of words to match the initials in S.M.A.R.T. I’ve chosen ones that best correspond with the needs of faith-based schools.

S is for Significant. A goal that is not significant, will fail to capture people’s imaginations and fail to address the important needs the school faces. Goals by their nature should help us focus on what’s most important.

M is for Measurable. Goals are meant to guide us, but they can’t if we don’t see exactly where they’re leading or how close we are to getting there. We need metrics to mark our path. For some goals, especially those which are perhaps subjective but nonetheless meaningful, it’s hard to identify quantifiable metrics. But we must still know what it will look like when we’ve achieved the goal. And what it looks like if we don’t.

A is for Attainable. Before we set off on the journey, we better be confident we can finish it. What will have to happen, or have to not happen, if we are to achieve our goal? Does it depend on a good economy, the strength of feeder schools or decisions being made in the political realm?

R is for Responsible, as in who is. Many people will likely have to contribute to reaching the goal. But who will be responsible? Who will make sure participants get recruited and the meetings take place? If that person or group can’t be identified, the goal isn’t a goal yet but a wish.

T is for Timed. Running a mile isn’t much of a goal, if it takes me two weeks to complete it. But running a mile in 8 minutes, now that’s a goal! At least for me. Setting a completion date will help us schedule all the steps and make time for them in the busy board or school schedule so they actually get done and the goal is accomplished.

Collaborative goal-setting

The different between a successful and an unsuccessful strategy is that a successful strategy is one that people make work. And people will make a strategy work if they have ownership for it. So it’s important to use a collaborative process to the formulate the goals, involving those who will be key to achieving it.

In the case of setting annual Board goals, the first step will be to identify the issues board members consider the most important for the coming year. A way to do this is to list on a flip-chart all the issues members feel are important. At this stage we want to make sure nothing is overlooked, but this list will probably be too long to be effective. Goal-setting is one of those cases where less is more. The more we can focus on what is most important, the more likely we are to accomplish what is most important. So we need to decide as a group the three or four issues that rise to the top.

We do this by giving each Board member a fixed number of dots (3/4” peel-off dots available at office supply stores). I like to give them a number equal to the number of goals we want to end up with, plus one. I’ve found that most boards can focus on about four major goals successfully in the course of a year, so I like to give them five dots. Each participant goes up to the list we’ve created and places their dots next the issues they find most important. They can expend their dots however they like. If they think only three items are important enough to be considered, they can distribute all their dots only to those three.

After everyone has voted, the dots are tallied, and the top three to four issues are identified. The group then breaks down into smaller groups of equal size, one for each issue selected. Each group is given a large sheet of paper already prepared with fill-in spaces for the SMART goals. Each small group decides what the goal needs to be to address the issue they’ve been assigned, gives it a short 3-5 word name, and fills that in at the top. Next, they put a one or two sentence description of what the board is going to accomplish with this goal.

Then they briefly answer the SMART Questions on the sheet: Why is this Significant? How will we Measure whether we’ve accomplished it? What needs to happen, or not happen, for it to be Attainable? Who will be Responsible? And what is the Time-frame for beginning and completing the activities needed to accomplish the goal?

Then each small group presents its SMART goal to the Board as a whole. This is an opportunity to make sure all Board members understand what they are committing to and that the SMART characteristics have been addressed adequately.

Often the board chair, or the small groups themselves, will do some final editing and formatting outside the meeting. The goals are then confirmed at the next meeting and the board reviews progress at each ensuing meeting.

If you’d like to get more information about planning for faith-based schools, please explore our website www.managingformission.com, or to receive a free template for formulating SMART goals contact me at my email, jackpeterson@managingformission.com. You can also watch the video tutorial at the top of this post, which will show some of the tools described in this post.

Thanks for your extra care to make sure your school’s work is focused and effective. God bless.

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Designing a Board Retreat

Jack Peterson
November 2017

Most governing boards schedule an extended meeting time at least once a year to accomplish what can’t be accomplished during regular meetings. This is precious time for the board, so how can we design it to be most productive?

We call these special times together “retreats,” although they often aren’t retreats in the traditional sense of taking time away from our routine to center ourselves more on God. During the course of the year trustees find themselves making many decisions, but they long to step back to see how all these decisions fit into an overall direction for the school. They realize they need to set aside time to do this.

Their motivation is often just to do planning for the future, but there are three other important reasons for setting this time aside: strengthening board process, prayer and board formation, and strengthening board relationships. With proper design, and coordination with the regular meetings, all four can be accomplished. Let’s look at each of these four objectives.

Planning:

Board planning can range from setting annual goals for the board itself to setting a strategic vision for the school for the next five to ten years. If annual board goals are needed, the board can generally use a meeting or two to identify potential goals and use the retreat for deeper discussion and adoption.

If the need is for institutional strategic planning, satisfying that need may require three major steps. The first might be a retreat at the end of one year to initialize the process. Then most of the next school year may be needed for a steering committee and a number of subcommittees to engage the community in helping to develop the plan. Finally, at the end of that year, it may need another retreat to thoroughly review and approve the proposed plan.

Whatever the level of planning, it’s important to design the retreat to provide necessary information and incorporate sufficient discussion, yet work within the time available to bring closure to at least one step of the process.

Board Process:

There are many best practices for making boards more effective and no board has mastered them all. For instance, are agendas designed to allow for substantive discussion? Is there a policy manual that keeps a record of board decisions over the years? Is there a robust process for selecting and orienting new members? The board retreat is a good time to review those practices.

A helpful tool for doing this is reviewing the board’s annual self-evaluation (which is itself a best practice). By doing this at the retreat, the board can delve more deeply into its own needs, and set goals for the coming year to up its own game.

Formation:

In faith-based schools, it’s important that trustees, individually and as a group, embody the spirituality and ethos of the school. As lay people who work in the secular world, they bring some of this with them when they join the board. But given the role they now play in guiding a ministry, it’s critical that they continue to be fed spiritually. This can be done to some extent during regular meetings, but an opening and closing prayer, as important as they are, simply won’t fill the bill.

Even a personal commitment to spiritual growth doesn’t necessarily translate into a collective commitment. The retreat is an opportune time for the board to renew its commitment to the school’s religious foundations and explore how to better incorporate them into its work. Studying the school’s values and spiritual foundations is important, but board formation must also include an experiential element. Here we come closer to the traditional understanding of a retreat as a time away to renew our relationship with God.

While this was the original purpose of a retreat, it often gets lost in the press of handling weighty business matters. Even during regular meetings, boards would do well to pause for silent prayer, communal prayer, and reflection on scripture or other foundational documents. But these will be more effective if during retreat time the board can go deeper, learn and practice forms of prayer that enrich their reflection, and experience those graces that require time to develop.

Relationship-building:

We don’t often think of boards as teams. We think of them as people with various connections to the school who assemble to make decisions on behalf of the people it serves. They want to make those decisions carefully, but also efficiently. The idea of working on how they relate to each other as human beings seems like a luxury and not central to the work they do. And yet we all know the difference between a functional and a dysfunctional board.

A dysfunctional board struggles to get anything decided because members are distracted by each others’ perceived agendas and constantly in defensive mode. A functional board is one where mutual respect and appreciation allow members to focus on the issues at hand and draw strength from diverse perspectives and skills. I call it traveling at the speed of trust.

While boards often feel there’s not enough time for team-building activities, my experience is that they give back more time than they take. The board retreat is a great time for people to interact on a more human, relational level. It’s best if they can engage in activities that allow them to be more vulnerable and that put everyone on an equal footing.

An overnight retreat is a great way to build relationships, as is simply sharing meals together. I’ve also used everything from sing-alongs and drum circles to chowder cook-offs and Frisbee golf to break down the barriers. Invariably these additions to the agenda meet with suspicion and some anxiety. But they are often what people say later made the most difference in how they approach their work.

The question is how do we squeeze planning, process, formation, and relationship-building into one half-day or even day-long retreat? You may have noticed as you read the descriptions for each of these, that they are not independent of each other. Planning requires good board process. Prayer is a good way to build relationships. Formation can strengthen planning and working on process can be part of team-building

There are ways to blend these elements together. For one board, some elements may need to be emphasized more than others. In some cases greater development of an element may have to be take place beyond the retreat day. For instance, the retreat might kick-off a prayer program that trustees commit to which is revisited briefly at each board meeting throughout the year.

The key is to be thoughtful, the way schools are in designing their curriculum. Schools look at the big picture of what they want their students to become, and develop a curriculum to support that. As school boards and commissions, shouldn’t we use an analogous approach to design our meeting and retreat time?

I hope the foregoing has provided you with some principles for designing your board or commission retreat. You can scroll to the top of this page to watch a video of this post, or share it with others at your school who work on board development. And if you want to learn more, please explore the rest of this website, www.managingformission.com. You’ll find more information that can help you in your role with the school, or you can contact me and ask me your questions directly.

The work you do is important enough to set aside some special time for doing it better. You won’t regret the extra effort to use it well.

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