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Why Not Use a Hybrid Model?
Governance for Congregations, Policy Based Governance

I'm on the Board of the San Francisco church and wanted to make a few observations. I truly appreciate the difficulties is transitioning to a new governance model. It's taken us several years, and we're still very much working out the kinks and adapting the principles to our actual needs. 

My understanding is that policy-based governance envisions a clear split between the Board and the CEO/administrative roles—two separate entities (even though people in churches may wear different hats and function in different capacities, as a Board member and later as a volunteer responsible to the CEO, for example). So, to me, that would mean any Convenor component would just be "under" (in a clumsy, hierarchical sense) the CEO team. The CEO team is actually responsible for all the administrative and "means", however they choose to structure the administration of the church. Of course, in practice, they don't decide all of that in a vacuum—they would consult with the Board and members of the congregation and, thus, decide to have Convenors as an important level, reportable to them. Only the CEO team reports to the Board (though the Board also spends significant time hearing from and learning from the congregation about ends).

The Board Chair being part of the CEO team is a  big no-no in policy governance. This brings to mind the advice we received: to make the change (once you are ready) all at once. To be clear, for everyone's sake, and make a complete and committed switch. It's not really an evolution kind of thing. Instead, the empowering promise of the model requires that everyone gets on board and begins living out the new way of doing things. Easier said than done, I know.

I'd worry more about having a clear structure that reflects the policy-based governance principles, and the commitment of everyone involved, than I would about developing your ends and means policies with further detail. In our experience so far, it's been worth the struggle.

Jeff Byrne, Unitarian Universalist Society of San Francisco, CA, 11/12/01

Here are my answers to some questions about making the change to Policy Governance:

Q: Did you adopt the entire Policy Governance Model to adapt to your needs, or just pieces of it? Do you think just using parts of it could work, or does it really need to be all or nothing?

A: If you want to change and get the benefit of the Board/Membership focusing on ends and leaders/ministers doing execution, I think it's all at once. Remember, though, that your board members can also help execute, but as volunteers under the leadership of the executive team!

Also, our by-laws are still supreme. We felt that there were little/no direct conflicts. Therefore, the Board adopted the policy governance method for its operation and guidance and informed the congregation. The structure of the organization adopted by the congregation in the bylaws has not changed, and therefore the membership has not been asked to vote on policy governance.

Q: In adapting it to your needs, how did you constitute the "Policy Board"? When we met last week, some people felt that the policy board should consist of the currently elected officers on the Executive Committee of the Board (president, vice-president, secretary, treasurer and long-range planning trustee); another felt it should have several former presidents on it for experience, and others had other views. If we satisfy everyone it will be a pretty large group! How many people should be on the Policy Board? Who (in a general sense) should they be?

A: Our Board of Trustees still acts for the membership between meetings of the membership. They, as our leaders, help the membership work on long range planning/ends statements.

Q: How did you constitute the "CEO"? Our minister suggested a three person "Executive Team" consisting of himself, the administrator, and the board president. We have a strong tradition of lay leadership, so we did not want a one-person minister/CEO. The minister's plan sounded good to most of the group. How is yours set up?

A: I strongly recommend that the Board president not be in the "CEO" group. The Board must monitor the results of the CEO, and how can it do that if the Board president is one of the CEO people?

This is a key division in Policy Governance, and your question makes me suspect that your Congregation/Board may not be ready to give up the day-to-day, detailed control. If they are not, then it's not time for Policy Governance.

Our executive team has our co-senior ministers and an executive director.

—Galen B. Workman, Ozdachs, Unitarian Universalist Society of San Francisco, CA, 11/05/01