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Implementing Policy Based Governance
Governance for Congregations

I will try to tell you how it is for us to implement the Policy Governance M odel. I was musing about what the members of our Board might consider "sacred ground" with regard to the Policy Governance Model and came up with two examples:

  1. Lead Minister/CEO limitations policies. Actually, right now we have no ordained ministers (we are about to enter the search mode) but the model will hold with whatever administrative structure we adopt. These limitations policies free the lead minister/CEO to use any means s/he wishes to accomplish the congregation's mission and ends except for those expressly forbidden in the limitations policies. This allows those reporting to the Board to be highly creative and requires the Board to evaluate them strictly on how they have accomplished the mission and ends policies within the limitations. We are presently considering an administrative structure that would have two or three folks reporting to the Board and they would have similar limitation policies. We have seven broad limitations policies with a total of forty-six lead minister/CEO limitations within those seven broad categories—General Lead Minister Constraint, Staff/Volunteer Treatment, Compensation and Benefits, Financial Planning, Financial Condition, Asset Protection, and Communication and Counsel to the Board.

    Our limitations are written in double negatives and are a source of difficulty for those unfamiliar with this model. In case you've never heard one of these, here is an example of a limitation policy:

    With respect to providing information and counsel to the Board, the lead minister may not cause or allow the Board to be uninformed or misinformed. Accordingly, s/he may not fail to inform the Board in a timely manner of relevant trends, public policy initiatives, public events of the organization, material external and internal changes, particularly changes in the assumptions upon which any Board policy has previously been established.

  2. "Board hat on—Board hat off." This refers to keeping our work as a policy Board separate from our volunteer work (operations) within the congregation. We sometimes refer to this as "not messing with the means," meaning that the means of carrying out Board policy fall wholly within the work of the lead minister/CEO (and through her/him are delegated to the staff), not the Board. As volunteers and members of the congregation (Board hats off) we are free to voice our opinions about church operations, but with our Board hats on we speak solely through policy and evaluation of policy compliance. I have heard that in smaller organizations and churches it is very necessary for the Board to be an operations Board as well as a policy Board. It was this model that Carver was referring to when he suggested that folks literally wear two different hats for the different portions of the Board meeting. I have actually said to our lead minister, "I am speaking now with my Board hat off," indicating that this is my opinion/wish/concern but should not be considered "direction" from a trustee. This language is common convention for our Board, ministers, and staff. Of course this means that our Board does not direct staff or committees (we call them "ministry teams" in the Traumbauer shared ministry model) in any way but refers those matters to the lead minister/CEO.

—Gretchen Dorn, Unity Church Unitarian, St. Paul, MN

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