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Centerboard: Assembling a Board

April 2007
By: Tom Lothamer
Dear Tom, After 10 years of operating a crisis pregnancy center under the umbrella of a ministry center, the board has decided that the CPC needs to "uncouple" from them. Beginning February of 2007, I am starting to do just that. Since this will be the initial time the new entity will have to come up with its own board, are there any obvious pitfalls that I should avoid in selecting these people? —Deborah in Georgia


Thanks, Deborah, for your excellent question. It brings up a situation many centers face as they "go independent" from the "parent" organization. It is a beneficial, but oftentimes stressful, process. The satellite center must file incorporation papers with their state, apply for tax-exempt status from the federal and state government, form an executive board, and care for a host of other organizational details.

This director's concern about avoiding pitfalls—both obvious and obscure—is well founded. Selecting the right members for a new board is crucial to any center's success. I can't emphasize enough how vital it is that the boards of Christian ministries consist of men and women who understand the mission and vision of the ministry as well as their individual and collective role in it.

The executive director plays a key role in identifying and securing new board members because he or she will be working with and for them. How does a director go about finding good board candidates?

Much of my counsel to Deborah is outlined in two workshops that I use in conferences and board retreats: "The Role of the Board Member" and "Being Effective Board Members." These and other outlines related to ministry operations are available upon request. Let me briefly list some principles that can help directors avoid common pitfalls:

• Pray! Ask the Lord to grant you wisdom for this important job (James 1:5).

• Determine that each member must share the center's commitment to Christ and view service on the board as a calling from the Lord.

• Aim to assemble a board that, while united in Christ, represents a diverse group of people. Consider people who have a unique perspective, area of expertise, or leadership ability, but give precedence to anyone with an outstanding commitment to the center and its mission.

• Be wary of people who hope to join the board in order to serve an agenda other than the center's mission. The ministry needs team players.

• Write out a job description for board members so candidates can make a prayerful and informed decision about joining the board. They also need to know how often the board meets, when and where meetings take place, how long meetings typically last, what the attendance requirements are, and the length of term a member will serve.

• Choose board members who already support the ministry financially, and let them know they will be expected to continue. They should also be willing to guide the director toward other people and businesses who might become donors.

• Choose a board chairperson carefully because this is a very strategic position. The chairperson must demonstrate willingness to work closely with the executive director and to assume leadership of fellow board members. If the chairperson is weak in either of these areas, the board and ministry will suffer.

• Prepare board members for effective service. Host a training session in which you (or the chairperson) spell out what is expected of board members and how the board properly functions in relation to the ministry and its director.

These guidelines will help you select a team that will approach membership on your board as a service to the ministry. Boards that get off to a bad start can be the bane of an organization. On the other hand, a good board will be the foundation for fruitful ministry.

Tom Lothamer is President of Life Matters Worldwide in Grand Rapids, Michigan. 

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