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Ten Good Ideas for New Board Presidents

By Donald E. Skinner

As congregations prepare for a new church year, newly elected officers will be taking up responsibilities on governing boards. Here are ten tips to help that work go smoothly, courtesy of the Rev. Ian Evison, Congregational Services director for the Unitarian Universalist Association’s Central Midwest District.

  • Before your term begins—or early on—talk with past presidents and the minister. Review key past documents so that you can connect them to current work. Acknowledge and celebrate the progress made by recent leaders whenever possible.
  • Begin with a board orientation, either by holding a board retreat or by making the orientation the focus of the first meeting of the year. Review or create the board covenant. Discuss main priorities for the year. Introduce yourselves to each other.
  • Prepare for each meeting by requesting agenda items in advance, reviewing them a week in advance with the executive committee. Ask how each item relates to the board’s key priorities. Decide what needs to happen next, and by whom.
  • Focus the agenda on items ready for decision and ones that can only be decided by the board. Clarify what can be decided by committees and staff. Beware of agenda items that invite the board to “just discuss something.”
  • Begin with check-in, a reading, and chalice lighting as appropriate to your congregation. Frame the work as religious work and as work important to you personally.
  • Actively chair the meeting. Call on the introverts. Ask those who speak repeatedly or at length to step back. Reschedule items that turn out not to be ready for decision. Thank people for their contributions. End on time.
  • Keep the focus on managing the flow of the work, not on doing the work. Delegate. Praise those who do the preparatory work. Set reasonable limits and boundaries for your own work. Don’t interrupt family time for board calls.
  • Appoint a timekeeper and a process observer for each meeting. At the end of the meeting the process observer should comment briefly, without discussion, on whether the agenda was followed, the quality of interaction, voices that were included and not included.
  • When the unexpected arises, stop and discuss what needs to be done and by whom. Avoid becoming the human shock absorber for the unexpected events that befall the congregation.
  • Nurture a spirit of interest, exploration, and discovery in the work. Avoid a spirit of overwhelmed diligence. Serve in a spirit that invites others to want to serve also.

Additional Resources

The Rev. Kenn Hurto, district executive of the Unitarian Universalist Association's (UUA’s) Florida District, on the basics of running a board meeting (PDF).

Don Skinner, editor of InterConnections, the UUA newsletter for lay and professional leaders of congregations, on board basics, focusing on the role of preparation.

Lisa Presley, district executive of the Heartland District of the UUA, with a focus on the role of the board.

About the Author

Donald E. Skinner

Donald E. Skinner was the founding editor of the InterConnections newsletter for congregational leaders and a senior editor of UU World from 1998 until his retirement in 2014. He is a member of the Shawnee Mission Unitarian Universalist Church in Lenexa, Kansas.

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