Displaying items by tag: board

A Lofty Vision in a World Made of Dirt

Balance scales of justice

by Jay Hobbs, Communications Assistant

As your pregnancy organization’s board meets to craft this year’s budget, take a moment to give the room a silent once-over.

Are you looking at a gaggle of starry-eyed dreamers or a collection of bone-dry bean-counters? What if you could tip the scales… to the middle?

You see, two kinds of people need to be involved in the budgeting process. You want your organization’s budget to reflect a sort of modest ambition—a reasonable approach that still has the ability to stretch your organization and its mission. A budget that reflects wisdom and reliance upon the leading of God’s Spirit.

As valuable as starry-eyed dreamers are—the rest of us are happy to have you aboard!—these visionaries often need reigned in a bit by faithful, brass-tacks bean-counters who are best-geared to convert a vision to a reality by executing a plan and process from Point A to Point B.

A board full of visionaries may have an ever-increasing treasure trove of great ideas and lofty budgeting goals, but at some point, these ideas need evaluated, vetted, and implemented by folks with calculators, spreadsheets, and bank statements.

On the other hand, a board comprised of bean-counters will lack the kind of ambition your organization needs in order to truly grow and take those “next steps” visionaries are so very fond of.

Peter F. Drucker, who Business Week once heralded as “the man who invented management, had the following to say in his book, Innovation and Entrepreneurship: Practice and Principles:

The people who work within these industries or public services know that there are basic flaws. But they are almost forced to ignore them and to concentrate instead on patching here, improving there, fighting the fire or caulking that crack. They are thus unable to take the innovation seriously, let alone to try to compete with it. They do not, as a rule, even notice it until it has grown so big as to encroach on their industry or service, by which time it has become irreversible. In the meantime, the innovators have the field to themselves.”

So, we ask again… Who is sitting at your board table?

Who is missing?


The Measure of Excellence

ruler growth chart 

by Ellen Foell, Legal Counsel

Financial services company Standard & Poor’s rates corporations and nations on the ability and willingness of an issuer—such as a corporation or government entity, to meet its financial obligations in full and on time.

Many Americans became familiar with Standard and Poor’s when the United States fell from AAA to AA-plus in 2011, reflecting the instability caused by Congress’ inability to meet budget deadlines during that timeframe.

Americans are also familiar with standards for corporations such as the Dow Jones Industrial Average, which guides our fanatical tracking of current stock prices as they roller-coaster up and down at breakneck speed. Meanwhile, medical providers are subject to a variety of standards, both specific and general, in addition to standards determined by The Joint Commission.

Standards exist on the homefront as well, where my children are judged (in a sense) on their learning capacity over the previous nine weeks by the ever-dreaded report card… which, as we know, goes on their permanent record. It seems impossible to go through life for very long without a set of standards measuring and accounting for performance, efficiency, and profitability being applied in various areas of our lives.

In the nonprofit sector, keeping an organization’s administrative overhead at somewhere between 0 and 20% has been the Holy Grail for a number of years. In other words, the “standard” has been to report to donors that less than 20 percent of all funds donated is being spent on administrative overhead, including salaries, advertising and marketing, staff training and education, costs of operation, and other less-than-exciting—albeit necessary—items.

This year, the three major evaluators and nonprofit trackers, Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance, Charity Navigator and Guide Star joined together in a first-ever united effort: an open letter to donors asking donors to rethink the “overhead myth.”

Without negating the value of the overhead factor altogether, this letter asked donors to reevaluate the importance and significance of overhead expenditure in rating a given nonprofit’s value.

These organizations’ desire to put the overhead figure into a more realistic and holistic perspective is a welcome reaction to the over-estimated value many donors place on overhead, which also drives nonprofits to sacrifice mission for the sake of meeting a somewhat arbitrary standard.

According to the organizers of The Overhead Myth, the myth itself is problematic in at least the following ways:

  • Starves charities of the freedom they need to best serve the people and communities they are trying to serve;
  • May, at times, put organizations into the untenable, and unacceptable position of fudging numbers in an effort to meet the magic acceptable ≤20% figure;
  • Limits the pool of capable and willing talent because of the lure of the for-profit world;
  • Reduces the innovative risks nonprofits are willing to take simply because it is difficult to justify the risk to donors weighed against the expense, and possible loss, of taking the risk.

This discourse, of course, is not entirely new. As early as 2009, the Stanford Social Innovation Review published a critique of the unbalanced weight overhead tends to play in the measure of a nonprofit’s performance in its article, “The Nonprofit Starvation Cycle.” The article’s authors cited a few of the effects of starving a nonprofit in an attempt to keep overhead costs low.

Among their many dismaying findings: nonfunctioning computers, staff members who lacked the training needed for their positions, and, in one instance, furniture so old and beaten down that the movers refused to move it. The effects of such limited overhead investment are felt far beyond the office: nonfunctioning computers cannot track program outcomes and show what is working and what is not; poorly trained staff cannot deliver quality services to beneficiaries.

Even with the discussion brewing over the past few years, the fact that BBB Wise Giving Alliance, Charity Navigator and Guide Star have chosen to tackle this issue together is rather significant.

Another key factor in the rise of this invaluable conversation was a now-famous TED Talk by Dan Palotta, entitled, “The Way We Think About Charities is Dead Wrong,” delivered in early 2013. Although I wouldn’t by any means endorse everything Palotta has to say in the talk, he does make a strong overall argument to expose the, frankly, ridiculous inconsistency in the behavior or practices we consider acceptable in the for-profit world, yet totally unacceptable within the nonprofit world.

The very same advances, innovations, and ad campaigns which reap huge profits, accolades, and awards in the for-profit world, Palotta argues, render accusation, criticism, and—at times—character assassination in the nonprofit world.

Our apparent disconnect between the for-profit and nonprofit worlds, as well as the relevant measures of success and performance, has sparked the following challenge from the editors of Nonprofit Quarterly:

Imagine that you went traveling and refused to take a room until you were informed about how much the inn spent on administration. Even if you were given that information, would you then compare that ratio to that of, say, your local airline?

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In the same vein, Kjerstin Erickson, in her recent article, “Nonprofit Emaciation: Confessions of a Do-Gooder Who Starved an Organization," says the following:

When I started the organization, I was young, idealistic, and naive. Not experienced enough to know better, I bought the hype: that to be truly altruistic and efficient, we needed to operate at the highest possible levels of self-sacrifice. We needed to direct almost all money raised to buying pencils rather than building infrastructure, we needed to expect our staff to work for the lowest possible wages (or ideally none at all), and we needed to do it all with an eager, grateful smile.

Erickson writes bluntly about her failures as the 20-year-old founder and CEO of FORGE, a nonprofit founded in 2003 to assist refugees in Zambia and Botswana, “We under-invested in systems infrastructure, we under-invested in fund development, and we under-invested in human resources.” The rest of Erickson’s article essentially analyzes reasons for the demise of her once-successful nonprofit organization, and her lament for the “could have been.”

If not Overhead… Then what?

The rising chorus of these voices raises the legitimate question: If not overhead, then what metric? What measure? What standard by which to judge efficiency and performance? Surely, it would be unwise to give to an organization spending 50 percent of its funds on overhead. How can a donor choose wisely?

Surely overhead has a place as a factor to consider… Right?


The three major organizations recommend consideration of factors such as “transparency, governance, leadership, and results.” While, a thorough discussion of each of these factors is impossible in this forum, they do serve as a prompt to a full-bodied discussion at your pregnancy help organization’s board table.

Indeed, Heartbeat International seeks to steward every dollar donated with utmost wisdom and care. We recognize we are but servants, and are accountable to our donors, to our Board, and—more importantly—the Lord for our overhead costs. And, as we state specifically in GOVERN Well: Your Personal Board Member Manual™, and elsewhere, we expect the same from our affiliates.

Nonetheless, as boards and executive directors go forward into a new fiscal year, it is perhaps worth considering and discussing how to balance the dream, vision, and mission to which God calls each affiliate with the inevitable, less-than-pleasant, yet no less necessary, discussion of how to fund the dream and mission by which we expect God to work His Kingdom values on earth as it is in heaven.

Let the discussion begin!

 For more views on this topic, see:

Can I get that in Writing?

by Ellen Foell, Heartbeat International Legal Counsel

Your vision statement can, and should, serve as a north star, a guide to your center for all decisions and activities.

You should be able to communicate your organization’s raison d'être (reason for existence) to the most uninitiated passerby simply by quoting your vision statement.

To quote Heartbeat International’s GOVERN Well: Your Personal Board Member Manual:

The board should be committed to a vision that can be described as “what the world/our community will look like” when our mission is accomplished, when our overall goal is reached. (Section II, G-1)

Although crafting the vision statement can seem like a daunting task, it doesn’t need to be. A board seeking to craft a vision statement, or retool an existing statement, may want to consider the following suggestions:

1. Describe the organization’s purpose. The purpose should be described in one or two reader-friendly, jargon-free sentences. People outside your organization should be able to understand and appreciate your purpose by simply reading your vision statement.

2. Describe the population the organization will serve. For example, most pregnancy help centers serve women and children. However, some centers’ scope of service also includes everyone affected by unplanned pregnancies. In describing the targeted population, be brief, but comprehensive. 

Example: “A community where true reproductive health care, based on the dignity of the person made in the image of God, and God’s plan for our sexuality, transcends death centered health care for women and their families.”

3. Describe the activities in which the organization will participate. Keep this description simple and short. You don’t need to list every service your center offers. A board should try to write this part of the vision statement in two sentences or less.

Example: “A community where every child has a chance to be born healthy and to be placed in the arms of a mother and father equipped in every way to provide a Christian home.”

4. Outline the organization's values. This part of the statement outlines the values that led to the center’s formation and the values partners, board, employees, and volunteers will exhibit while working towards the organization’s goals. Words like “true,” “dignity of the person,” and “image of God” all convey that the sanctity of life is a core value at the following center.

Example: “A community where true reproductive health care, based on the dignity of the person made in the image of God, and God’s plan for our sexuality, transcends death centered health care for women and their families.”

5. Describe what the organization wishes to accomplish. Answer the question, “What success looks like? In looking at the housing ministry’s statement we used above, it’s clear that, for this ministry, every child will be born healthy and placed in a Christian home:

Example: “A community where every child has a chance to be born healthy and to be placed in the arms of a mother and father equipped in every way to provide a Christian home.”

An organization’s vision statement speaks volumes about the board, the staff, and those associated with the organization. A good vision statement also pulls in those who previously had no connection with you.

Is it time to take a fresh look at your vision statement?

How's Your Vision?

by Ellen Foell, Heartbeat International Legal Counsel

Every year, I take my children to have their vision checked.

One of my daughters has exceptionally poor vision, especially for an athlete. It was not always poor. When she first started to play soccer, she was quite a force to be reckoned with. But as time went on, her amount of almost-but-not-quite goals mysteriously began to pile up. The mystery was solved, however, when I took her to an annual vision appointment and found out—sure enough—her vision had deteriorated to 20/300.

The problem was simple: She couldn’t see the goal.

What about you? As a leader who sets the course for the center, how good is your vision? Has it deteriorated over time? How do you, as a leader—a forward, if you will—keep the vision alive and clear enough to hit the mark accurately?

Let’s take a page from a leader’s playbook. That leader is Caleb, one of the twelve spies sent into the Promised Land, and one of only two who lived to enter it. God describes Caleb in Numbers 14:24 as someone who “has a different spirit and follows me wholeheartedly,” and because of that, God promised to bring him back one day as a full-time resident.

It would be 40 years from the time he first laid eyes on this land that flowed with milk and honey to the time Caleb would finally cross the Jordan for good.

Forty years. That is a long time to wait for fulfillment of a promise. It was long enough for Caleb to see every single one of his peers grow old and die in the wilderness while the consequences of Israel’s unbelief took its toll.

How easy would it have been for Caleb to have lost sight of his vision? How easy to simply forget how beautiful that first glance was.

Yet, 45 years after he first saw the land, the last five of which had been spent conquering it, Caleb declared: 

Now then, just as the LORD promised, he has kept me alive for forty-five years since the time he said this to Moses, while Israel moved about in the wilderness. So here I am today, eighty-five years old! I am still as strong today as the day Moses sent me out; I’m just as vigorous to go out to battle now as I was then. Now give me this hill country that the LORD promised me that day. You yourself heard then that the Anakites were there and their cities were large and fortified, but, the LORD helping me, I will drive them out just as he said. (Joshua 14:10-12)

This old man had energy. He had passion. Caleb had vitality. He was not daunted by his age, by time, or by difficult experiences. What is it that kept his passion, energy and focus alive for 40 years? I believe it was Caleb’s vision.

Caleb’s vision was big. He had a grand vision for something that was not yet in his or Israel’s possession. The Promised Land was exactly that…it was promised. It was the land that God had promised to Moses at the Burning Bush, the same land promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob so many generations before.

But the land was not yet in their physical possession. Faith was still involved. Trusting in the promise of God was still required.

Forty-five years before, Moses dispatched a band of 12 spies on a reconnaissance mission to the land of Caanan. When they returned after 40 days, they had all seen the same things, but 10 of the spies’ reports were so clouded and marred by fear that they brought a “bad report” about the land.

Convinced that God was able to do what He’d promised, Caleb reported what he’d seen: a land flowing with milk and honey; inhabitants who would be easily conquered; clusters of grapes so large that he and the other spies needed a pole to carry them on. Caleb now had a vision for something that was so grand and so beautiful that he could not—and did not—forget it. Simply put, what Caleb saw amazed him.

For the next 40 years, as the Israelites wandered in the desert, craving water at times, meat at other times, Caleb listened to their whining and the complaining. He witnessed the rebellion of Korah, watching the earth swallow up Korah’s entire family. Caleb saw the plague of fiery serpents go out from the word of God among the people of Israel. He saw and participated in many battles, some victories and defeats.

Even as he and Joshua—the other faithful spy—witnessed every person of their generation die in the wilderness, Caleb kept the vision before him.

You too have a vision for your center. Are you able to remember it? Does it ignite your passion today as much as it did on the first day it was articulated? If not, ask yourself three questions:

1. Is your vision still big? Is your vision as grand as the day you first saw it? Is the vision still bigger than you? In their 1994 book, Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies, James Collins and Jerry Porras introduced the term, “Big Hairy Audacious Goal” (BHAG). The BHAG is a vision that, even internally, seems impossible to achieve, yet excites and ignites people to action.

2. Are you continuing to move forward to see the vision through? Election results, financial floundering, staff issues, or personal hurdles need to be overcome. Are you willing to overcome them? Consider Caleb, who kept pressing forward with the vision, despite all odds, despite all obstacles.

3. Are you trusting God to do what He promises? Caleb knew he couldn’t go into the Promised Land and take it based on his own strength. Instead, he says, “the LORD helping me” (Joshua 14:12). Caleb knew that only through God could he and the people drive out the enemies and take the hill country. 

No leader can rely on personal passion, strength, energy, and clarity alone to see a truly inspiring vision fulfilled. God alone can, and will, fulfill His promise through a willing, passionate, focused, and humble leader who actively nurtures and fuels his or her vision.

Forging a God-Sized Vision

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by Jor-El Godsey, Heartbeat International Vice President 

Both the Old and New Testaments declare the importance of vision. In his first sermon (Acts 2) the Apostle Peter quotes the Word of the Lord to the Old Testament prophet Joel, “That I will pour forth of my spirit on all mankind; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams...”

Notice, Joel uses “vision” in the plural. The Lord inspires many visions—both corporate and individual. Jehovah inspired the nation of Israel (corporate) and the call of the prophet (individual). Jesus gave the apostles a vision for the work of the church (corporate) He was birthing, and also a vision for those who would lead it (individuals).

Visions are God-sized. Almost by definition, a vision should be so expansive, even audacious, that it will take more than just you to accomplish. Want a quick way to test your vision? Ask yourself if it’s something you can fulfill on your own. If it is, it’s not big enough to be God-sized!

A vision must be something that draws us in, while drawing many others—even partnering organizations—because the goal is, well, so visionary!

Once we understand the vision the Lord is calling us to, we must be sure to write it down. Again, our guide in this is an Old Testament prophet: “Then the Lord answered and said, ‘Record the vision and inscribe it on tablets, that the one who reads it may run.’” (Habakkuk 2:2).

Forging the vision into a statement is a spiritual and practical exercise that will serve to guide today and into the future. A vision should be captured in key organizational documents, to inspire and frame efforts moving forward.

Be careful that your Vision Statement does not describe your vision for your organization (strong, healthy, more offices, a medical clinic, an abstinence program, etc.). Rather, it is your vision for the world/community that you live in, or for life change of the members of that community. Because your community does not now look like your vision, there is definitely a need for the work God has called you and your organization to do!

God-sized vision inspires God-sized provision to see that vision realized. Sometimes, the vision is so big we can’t imagine it fulfilled in our lifetime. Our friends, Joel and Habakkuk, experienced this, but stayed faithful to their call.

Our legacy will include how well we inspired others to this God-sized task.

Executive Committee



Passion for the center’s vision combined with a servant leader's heart are two virtues that energize Board Members. GOVERN Well helps new and seasoned Board Members move your center to the next level of effectiveness by connecting -- or reconnecting -- with these qualities as expressed in key areas: Goals, Ownership, Values, Effect, Regulate, and Nurture.  Learn more.

What’s the one committee that nearly every pregnancy help organization currently has in place and is ready to be fully functioning? The Executive Committee!

Traditionally the executive committee includes all the currently elected officers of the Board along with the Executive Director (ED) or Chief Executive Officer (CEO). Some include a “past president” who is still functioning as a board member. A few larger organizations have a Chief Operations Officer (COO), as well as a CEO, and include this person on the executive committee as well.

What does the executive committee do?

In a typical non-profit organization, the executive committee does three primary things:

  1. Process and establish items for the next board meeting,
  2. Interim-decision making, and
  3. Board-focused planning (special meeting schedule, board growth and development).

While these are the primary things an executive committee may do, there are some other unique things they may need to address – like board conflict and parliamentary concerns (specifically board member terms and such).

Preparing for the next board meeting

“No red meat” says a seasoned former board chairman of a national non-profit organization. He encourages the staff and the executive committee to work through items so they are properly “cooked” for the board meeting. This includes gathering relevant details, analyzing the information, understanding potential pathways, and, perhaps, providing a recommendation to the whole board. How much the executive committee (or staff) does in advance of a board meeting to prepare is a discussion unto itself. Nevertheless, with the Treasurer (financials), Secretary (previous minutes), and CEO (operations and services report) providing most of the key elements for the meeting, this committee does the heavy lifting in ensuring the information necessary for the board meeting.

Decisions between meetings

Occasionally, an urgent decision is necessary that cannot wait until a full convening of the board is possible. Depending upon accessibility, the board may be polled or consulted electronically (e-mail or even text) and a consensus or majority position may be determined. When that is not possible – in a case where board members do not regularly respond to email in a timely fashion – the executive committee members can more readily convene to provide a decision, if only a temporary one until the board can come together.

Meeting about board stuff

The Board chair or president should always be focused on board health, both practically and spiritually. It is the wise Board leader who involves the executive committee in this as well. Anticipating gaps in board terms, discussing the need for strategic planning opportunities, and evaluating the board calendar are all things an executive committee should be doing. Including the executive director/CEO in this provides the day-to-day leader an opportunity to help coordinate and leverage his or her knowledge and sphere of influence on behalf of the board.

Whether this group meets offline extensively,- or for a few minutes prior to the board meeting, it is important to build a cohesive leadership group that ultimately serves the board as a whole and the organization it serves. The executive committee must be careful not to become a “board within a board” by commandeering too much authority not specifically designated by the bylaws. As in all areas, board members must seek wisdom in how to work together to accomplish the vision and mission of the organization.

Note: The executive committee is not to be confused with “executive session” which is intentionally excluding the CEO/Executive Director from all or part of a board meeting. Executive sessions should be infrequent and generally when the topic is specifically about the chief executive.

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Dangers of absent Board members

Board members are required to attend board meetings.

"For lack of guidance a nation falls, but victory is won through many advisers" (Proverbs 11:14).



Passion for the center’s vision combined with a servant leader's heart are two virtues that energize Board Members. GOVERN Well helps new and seasoned Board Members move your center to the next level of effectiveness by connecting -- or reconnecting -- with these qualities as expressed in key areas: Goals, Ownership, Values, Effect, Regulate, and Nurture.  Learn more.

Board membership carries a different weight than any other volunteer position in a pregnancy help organization. There are legal duties required of each board member who agrees to serve (or fails to correctly indicate when their service is ended). Such legal duties comprise the fiduciary responsibilities of the board and each board member. Attendance and participation at board meetings, in a practical and legal sense, are necessary to fulfill the duty of care. almost every set of bylaws allows for some number of “excused absences.” But excusing an absence does not excuse the responsibility of the board member.

The Scripture (Proverbs 11:14) reveals the importance of a “multitude of counselors” in seeking security, safety or victory (depending upon which version you read). The Board is empowered legally to provide governing counsel to the organization. As with any group of people, each Board member brings a unique perspective and experience to the deliberations at hand.

When a Board member is absent from the group conversations that occur at board meetings, there are at least four potential dangers that arise from the absent board members. The dangers range from lost opportunity to negligence.

Lost opportunity 

Missing any one meeting – whether excused or otherwise – is to potentially deprive the governing body of the organization of insight and information. This is a lost opportunity for a fuller discussion and richer decision-making process. The opportunity for participating in that conversation at that time is past. Good and conscientious board members will seek to make up for that loss by absorbing the minutes of the meeting and seeking details to better understand the flow of the conversation.

Disrespecting others

Each person makes a commitment to attend meetings by accepting the role of board member. In doing so, they align themselves with several others who have made the same commitment. When a board member is routinely absent, their absence becomes more than a “lost opportunity” and can be seen as disrespectful of the time and effort of the other board members.

Everyone is busy. Everyone’s family and schedule are important. To consistently be absent for other than providential reasons is to diminish what others are sacrificing in their service on the board. We must not depend upon the grace of others who are setting aside valuable things (family, work, rest, etc.) to bear the weight of governance.

Legal infraction

Sometimes the good intentions of fellow board members can create a legal breach. Some boards vote a high profile and/or highly respected individual onto the board knowing that their ability or availability to attend board meetings will be an issue. It becomes accepted that this “board member” will not regularly attend meetings or participate in the regular governance of the organization. This is a violation of several aspects of the legal duty of care.

If absences exceed what the bylaws allow for, this is technically legal infraction. Fortunately for chronic absentees, there is little to no external enforcement measure. Unfortunately, chronic absentees force others – particularly the board chair/president – into the uncomfortable position of confrontation or even exercising a clause for dismissal.

In fact, the board chair/president must act to avoid exposure to the external charge of negligence.


While no pregnancy help board we know of has been exposed publically for negligence, there are several examples of non-profits under scrutiny for organizational behaviors – mishandling funds, hiring practices, etc. – where board attendance was or became an issue. When negligent acts of the executive director or staff come to light, the first group examined is those with oversight.  The board’s individual actions – especially attendance and participation in meetings – are scrutinized carefully.

Even if the original charges of negligence are without merit, board members found not to be properly exercising their duty of care to attend, participate, and take seriously their role, could themselves be negligent.

Proper Stewardship

While the dangers listed are practical and procedural, our greatest call is to exercise proper stewardship of the mission to which God has called us. Whether we serve primarily in the counseling room, classroom, or conference room, our chief aim should be good stewardship of the people, programs, and provision the Lord has provided. The legal system’s call for a duty of care should not be greater than that of our God who calls us as stewards to this work.

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Board Member

Heartbeat provides several resources and trainings that were created for the Board Member of a Pregnancy Help Organization. The Board sets the mission and vision for an organization. It's a challenging role, and for many organizations just starting out, the Board also staffs an organization. There's a lot to learn and a lot to take in, so Heartbeat has tools and training to support each Board Member to make more effective pregnancy help organizations.

Board Member resources available to you!

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