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Governance for Congregations, Policy Based Governance

Policy Governance model one of the most important questions to answer is to whom is the Board accountable, to whom are they morally responsible. We try to remember that the staff works for the congregation and that the Board does not work for the staff, but creates policy that is carried out by the minister/CEO through the staff. Policies are originated by the Board , not the staff.

The stakeholders include those to whom the Board is accountable but can also include a much larger circle. Voting members is one way to define stakeholders but the group could also include the larger Unitarian Universalist Association, the community, and the church staff. We often talk about primary stakeholders and then other levels of stakeholders. Gathering "stakeholder input" is an essential Board task so we can assess the degree to which the CEO/minister (or whoever reports to the Board ) is carrying out Board policies. We also need this input to determine how policies should be adjusted and the need for new policy.

—Gretchen Dorn, Unity Church-Unitarian of St. Paul, MN, 01/05/99

Our long-time minister, now deceased, eschewed administration. That vacuum was filled by the Board , some committees, and a part-time church secretary. Many problems appeared, leading to a change to a full-time office manager and more involvement by interim ministers. Part of the evolution included controversy over how the former secretary was let go.

When the Board began exploring policy governance the matter of the CEO position produced a great deal of discussion. We concluded that having the minister as CEO wasn't appropriate.

We talked about a team instead of a single person. Minister plus office manager seemed like a good idea, but the Board also wanted a lay person from the Finance Committee involved. Given the still-painful aftermath of a personnel action, the Board further concluded that a member of the Personnel Committee should be included.

As we had reached this point, the treasurer (a Board member) suggested that the treasurer be on this nascent Executive Team to represent the financial side of things; this was agreed to with the treasurer shifting to being ex-officio on the Board.

Our policy governance guidelines spell out the relationship between the Executive Team and the Board . They do not go into any specificity about the individual Executive Team members. At Board meetings all Executive Team members attend except the representative from Personnel Committee.

As Board President I've attended many Executive Team meetings. This helps me recognize what is and is not critical for the Board , and helps me formulate Board meeting agendas. I get involved when I'm invited, as president, to comment. (Sometimes I contribute ideas as a person. Can't avoid that.)

—Ralph Melaragno, Board President, Unitarian Universalist (UU) Fellowship of Sonoma County, CA, 03/17/99

Here in Florida where it's hot but not heated, the Florida District Board, (UU) which was just reorganized as far as size (from eighteen to nine) and election (all at-large rather than by clusters and at-large), was asked to read the shorter pamphlets or one or more of his books prior to their retreat—the district president and district executive are both interested in seeing this District implement it, and I think that was very helpful too.

Florida District used their regular retreat weekend to get started, but they aren't done. They used an outside facilitator—my friend on the School Board who has been to a week-long Carver training (they're out there, but I don't know how you find them unless you happen to know one.)

—Margaret Sanders, First Unitarian Church of Orlando, 07/08/99

We started our journey down the policy governance trail in May of 1997 (the start of my second year as president) when incoming Board members and council directors were all given a copy of Roy Phillips book entitled, Transforming Liberal Congregations for the New Millennium. From the discussions that came out of reading that book, the Board embarked on a re-organization of our church structure to implement many of the ideas embodied in the policy governance structure. All of our Board members have copies of John Carver's book, Boards That Make a Difference and we have spent the last year and a half reorganizing our council and Board structure to get the Board away from micro-managing the organization.

Our congregation has a history of being contentious with its ministers, so the Board has had to work hard to "sell" the concept to the broader lay leadership and the general membership. In the last year we (the congregation) have also gone through a long range planning process that is being used to drive a much needed capital campaign.

We still have a long ways to go, but we're making progress.

—Paul Lowry, Chief Financial Officer of Unitarian Universalist Church of Atlanta, Atlanta, GA, 01/22/99

I can answer briefly re: the two congregations I've served who have adopted the model. One (Lincoln, NE) had adopted a new organizational structure with an eye to involving more members in leadership and enabling the church to grow. The larger structure was challenging the Board , trying to manage it all and even staff all the positions. The task force that designed the structure was struggling with how to help it work, and happened upon Carver as the solution. At the very same time, I learned about the model from several sources, and it sounded likely. So I purchased the video and we showed it several times to Board and staff and key leaders. The decision process took off from there.

The Santa Rosa, CA (Sonoma County Fellowship) Board was struggling with micro-management, very long meetings leading to second meetings, with large issues and small issues filling their agendas. This situation is one for which the model was expressly designed. So I invited the Board to view the video. And again, the decision process took off from there.

—Marge Keip, 07/27/99

Our decision to go to policy governance was made only after a year and a half of discussion, retreats, and explanations.

First we talked about our Society's health. We decided that although our Society was in a good place, we thought we could do better in growth and affecting the wider community. We saw that our organizational checks and balances were over-checking and keeping our leaders from taking appropriate action. We saw the policy governance model with its strong charge to the Executive Team as a necessary structural change. We saw the policy governance mandate for the Board to work with the Membership to determine our Ends as something critical to our Society which was not being done at all.

But, it took us months and several facilitated retreats for the Board to decide that it wanted to focus on communications and ends an then to be able to explain to the Congregation what an Executive Team was and what it would be doing.

When we adopted the policy governance model, we did it all at once. We knew we would continue to work out kinks, but we felt we needed to clear lines of responsibility as soon as we could.

—Galen B. Workman, Ozdachs, UU Society of San Francisco, 11/05/01