Board and Governance

Frequently Asked Questions about Policy-Based Governance


What is governance?  
Governance determines who has power, who makes decisions, how people make their voice heard, and who is accountable for what.   The overarching goal of governance is to allow the organization to best carry out its mission and vision. The UU Board of Trustees (currently known as the Prudential Committee) will continue to be the governing body for our church.

How is “operations” different from “governance?”
Operations refers to the day-to-day management of the church.  As has been common with many small churches, our governing board has been directly involved in both governance and management.

What is Policy-Based Governance?
Policy-based governance (P-BG) is a particular model of governance.  John Carver developed the Policy Governance® model over 20 years ago, and it has been adopted by thousands of churches, non-profit organizations and businesses.  “No other denomination’s congregations have studied this model or adopted its principles more widely [than the Unitarian Universalist Association]” -UUA Governance web site.

What’s wrong with the way we’ve been operating?
It’s not that we’ve been governing in a wrong way.  The better question might be: Are there other ways we could be governing that would allow us to more successfully organize our efforts toward our shared mission and vision?

What are some of the specific differences between how we have been governing and P-BG?


What are the potential “down-sides” to P-BG?
During the transition in governance practices existing committees will have a new accountability structure.  Such change may be beneficial overall, but uncomfortable during the transition. When we enable the minister to also be the executive there will inherently be more responsibility placed on his shoulders.  Though this can be relieved through effective delegation, during the transition this could be challenging. There will need to be careful consideration about how to spiritually support the minister, both during the transition period and routinely thereafter.

Is Policy Governance spiritual?
Because P-BG empowers the minister to implement the church’s mission and vision, it gives him more spiritual freedom in service to these ends.

What about outcomes?  How do we know we are successful under P-BG?
This is an important aspect of PB-G.  The  Executive Minister will be required to submit monitoring reports to The Board of Trustees on a regular basis. The most outcomes-related report is the Ends Report.  In it  the minister will regularly report to the board on the church’s accomplishments in achieving its ends -- the mission and vision of the church.  

What are “Executive Limitations” policies, and why are they written in the negative -- “thou shalt not fail to…”
Executive limitations policies set reasonable boundaries for acceptable behavior for the Executive Minister. They are written in the negative because they state the boundaries, beyond which is unacceptable.  Think of it as constructing a fence within which the Executive must stay.

How much does the minister control the Church’s money?
The Board of Trustees, on behalf of the congregation, have ultimate fiduciary responsibility for the financial affairs of the church.  Volunteer financial positions have and will continue to play a key role.  The following draft mid-level policy for our church provides an example of the financial “Executive Limitations” that the minister must operate within, and regularly report compliance to the board about:

“With respect to the actual, ongoing financial condition and activities, the Executive shall not cause or allow the development of financial jeopardy or a material deviation of actual expenditures from Board priorities established in Ends Policies or the multi-year plan.”

Right now we have a Minister who has the skill set to be both a Minister and Executive.  How can we be sure to find a minister with both ministerial and management skills?
Many UU churches, of all sizes, are moving towards PB-G so this will be a familiar concept for many ministerial candidates.  And many candidates may appreciate this clarity in roles.  When we conduct ministerial searches in the future we will identify the skills sets we are looking for, as we have done in the past.  Though we did not have the P-BG language at the time we held our last search, we had identified that we were looking for a minister who had strong management skills.  Now we have a framework that defines our requirement much better for future candidates.

How is executive authority different under P-BG?
All executive authority for day-to-day operations and the ministries of the church are delegated to the Minister.  In turn, he will delegate as needed to professional and volunteer staff.  The current by-laws define the Board Chair as the CEO - Chief Executive Officer. Going forward the Board Chair will instead act as the “Chief Governance Officer” while the Minister will assume the role of “Executive.”  

Who gets to decide about new programs and ministries?
P-BG gives the minister and those who work with him the flexibility to develop new ministries and programs that are any reasonable interpretation of the church’s mission and the P-BG policies..  All such decisions are subject to the board’s oversight, and ultimately the entire congregation. Just as the board empowers the minister to implement the church’s policies by any reasonable interpretation, so too does the minister empower church members and staff to be creative in developing and implementing our church’s ministries.

Why did the number of Pru members reduce from 9 to 6?
Under PB-G there is no need for Board members to take on big extra projects - we won’t need to have a “big staff.”  Having fewer members on PRU means that there are more leaders available within the congregation to work with and take on leadership roles within the various ministry teams.