Governance advice with a familiar ring

A recent issue of the Association of Theological School’s Colloquy online newsletter included advice gleaned from a nine-month long project focused on governance challenges at 21 member schools. A quick read through and I was ready to shrug off the findings as providing nothing new.

Which, in fact, is what the author of the Colloque article admitted. “No particular surprises” are Eliza Smith Brown’s exact words.

And that’s okay. Organizational leaders – board members and presidents, alike – are a transient bunch, here for a few terms and then gone, taking with them lessons learned about governance. It’s good, even great, that most advice provided to board developers rings familiar to folks who’ve been around the governance block a time or two.

For that recently recruited class of board members or first-time president, the old is shiny new. Yesterday’s insights are the stuff of “aha” moments for newcomers to governance.

And that includes the 10 lessons cited in Colloquy.  As Brown tells us: “Taken together [the lessons] constitute a checklist . . . that those concerned with seminary [or any other nonprofit organization’s] governance should keep in mind.”


  1. Mission is the most important driving force in good governance.
  2. Personal relationships and trust are critical to success.
  3. Each constituency needs to be clear on its authority, responsibilities, and expectations.
  4. Communications need to be frequent, broad-based, and articulated in a common language.
  5. Establishment of basic practices and processes helps to ensure a consistent and sustainable governance structure that is more readily passed along to the next group of stewards.
  6. Don’t wait for a crisis to improve governance processes.
  7. Look ahead.
  8. ATS [and other] standards serve as a useful benchmark for evaluating governance structures and processes.
  9. Be nimble enough to respond to changing times with appropriate adjustments in governance structures.
  10. This work is never done.

Forget the adage linking familiarity and contempt. When seeking to strengthen governance practices, it’s the familiar that leads to competence.

For more on strengthening governance practices, see:  

10 habits at the heart of exemplary board governance

All hands needed on the governance deck, and noses, too

Essentials of good faith governance


  1. Love this post:) wrote something similar for our blog to be posted soon

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