Ten Good Ideas for New Board Presidents
Board Presidents
Governance for Congregations, Governing Boards, UUA Districts & Regions

Ten Good Ideas for New Congregational Presidents Presented by Ian Evison
Sponsored by the MidAmerica Region of the Unitarian Universalist Association


  • This webinar gives ten pieces of simple, straightforward advice about how to make your time of service as board president productive for the congregation and for you. This will not give you a formula for success. It will invite you to use the wisdom you already have about how to help make the experience go well.
  • Primary source of tonight’s wisdom is the experience of your fellow board presidents.It is their advice for making your term on the board more effective and satisfying.And, yes, the service as board president should be a fulfilling part of your own religious and leadership journey.
  • This webinar is designed as a companion presentation to “Board Responsibilities:What Is a Board to Do?” by Lisa Presley
  • Prepare before your term begins. Talk with the past presidents and senior minister, if there is one. Review key past documents like minutes, policy documents, and strategic plans. It is empowering to articulate current work as part of an ongoing history of work. It is dispiriting for a board to feel that work already accomplished has been forgotten.

Good Idea #1

Begin with a board orientation. This may be a separate board retreat or the focus of the first meeting of the year. It should include orientation to the position and the congregation. Review the board covenant .Create one if it does not exist. Discuss main priorities for the year. What are the three main things the board needs to accomplish this year? Introduce yourselves to each other.

Good Idea #2

Prepare each meeting. Request agenda items in advance. Especially in larger congregations, review agenda a week in advance with executive committee and ministerial leadership. Agenda should include time allocations for each item. Ask about each of the key priorities: What needs to happen now? Whose work is it? Distribute reports and minutes in advance and accept them in a consent agenda, in one motion (ten minutes).

Good Idea #3

Focus the agenda on items ready for decision and that only can be decided by the board. Clarify what can be decided by committees and staff. Changes in policies and changes in budget allocations should take most of the attention. Leave time for strategic discussions: Where are we headed? Beware of agenda items which invite the board to “just discuss something” or to “give their buy in.”

Good Idea #4

Begin with check-in, reading, and chalice lighting as appropriate to your congregation. Frame the work as religious work and as work important to you personally.

Good Idea #5

Be active in chairing the meeting. Use the step forward, step back principle from our youth leadership: Call on people who are quiet. Ask those who speak at length or repeatedly to step back. Reschedule agenda items that turn out not to be ready for decision. Thank people for their contributions. End on time

Good Idea #6

Keep your focus on managing the flow of the work, not on doing the work. This should feel very different from being a committee chair. Ask others to prepare work for decision by the board. Praise those who do this preparatory work. Set reasonable limits and boundaries for your own work. Don’t interrupt family time to take board calls.

Good Idea #7

Appoint a time-keeper 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.

Good Idea #8

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.

Good Idea #9

Nurture a spirit of interest, exploration, and discovery in the work. Avoid a spirit of overwhelmed diligence. Your spirit will convey to the whole of the board. Serve in a spirit which invites others to want to serve also.

Good Idea #10

Webinar originally presented June 2012

About the Author

  • Ian is a UU minister who has served in a variety of ministries, including parish ministry, theological education, a research project at the University of Chicago in Family and Religion...

For more information contact midamerica@uua.org.

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