Governance and West Shore

The Board of Trustees of West Shore Unitarian Universalist Church is currently engaged in a process to significantly change our governance documents. We anticipate that a new set of draft bylaws will soon be ready for congregational review and feedback, with a vote to occur during the first quarter of 2019. We have been greatly aided in this effort by input from the Rev. David Pyle.The Board has also initiated a process to rewrite our policies to reflect the kind of mission-based governance by policy described in “Governance and Ministry” (second edition) by Dan Hotchkiss.


Policy governance - what is it?  Why do we do it?

The Board governs itself by following a proscribed set of policies. This style of governance is called Policy Governance, and West Shore has adopted this governing style since 2003. For a complete review of our policies, click here.

Beginning in 2000, the leadership of West Shore began to look at the Carver Model of Policy Governance as a possible model for the Board of Trustees to follow. After six years of study, the Board of Trustees undertook the task of writing and approving a Governance Manual   This manual describes the role of the Board, the Executive Officer, the Parish Minister (s) as well as policy and board responsibilities.

The church's by-laws are the primary governance document of the church. You can download them as a PDF or flip through them like a booklet.

For more information about policy governance, click here for a Powerpoint presentation providing an overview of our governance, focusing on the responsibilities of the Board of Trustees.

 Below is a quick summary of Policy Governance.  This was written for a non-profit organization; however the principles are the same.  The Unitarian Universalist Association has moved to the policy governance model, as have many regional boards. 

What Policy Governance is NOT!

  1. Policy Governance is not a specific board structure. It does not dictate board size, specific officers, or require a CEO. While it gives rise to principles for committees, it does not prohibit committees nor require specific committees.
  2. Policy Governance is not a set of individual  best practices or tips for piecemeal improvement.
  3. Policy Governance does not dictate what a board should do or say about group dynamics, methods of needs assessment, basic problem solving, fund raising, managing change.
  4. Policy Governance does not limit human interaction or stifle collective or individual thinking.

What Policy Governance IS!

Policy Governance is a comprehensive set of integrated principles that, when consistently applied, allows governing boards to realize owner-accountable organizations.

Starting with recognition of the fundamental reasons that boards exist and the nature of board authority, Policy Governance integrates a number of unique principles designed to enable accountable board leadership.

Principles of Policy Governance

1. Ownership:
The board exists to act as the informed voice and agent of the owners, whether they are owners in a legal or moral sense. All owners are stakeholders, but not all stakeholders are owners, only those whose position in relation to an organization is equivalent to the position of shareholders in a for-profit-corporation.

2. Position of Board:
The board is accountable to owners that the organization is successful. As such it is not advisory to staff but an active link in the chain of command. All authority in the staff organization and in components of the board flows from the board.

3. Board Holism:
The authority of the board is held and used as a body. The board speaks with one voice in that instructions are expressed by the board as a whole. Individual board members have no authority to instruct staff.

4. Ends Policies:
The board defines in writing its expectations about the intended effects to be produced, the intended recipients of those effects, and the intended worth (cost-benefit or priority) of the effects. These are Ends policies. All decisions made about effects, recipients, and worth are Ends decisions. All decisions about issues that do not fit the definition of Ends are means decisions. Hence in Policy Governance, means are simply not Ends.

5. Board Means Policies:
The board defines in writing the job results, practices, delegation style, and discipline that make up its own job. These are board means decisions, categorized as Governance Process policies and Board- Management Delegation policies.

6. Executive Limitations Policies:
The board defines in writing its expectations about the means of the operational organization. However, rather than prescribing board-chosen means -- which would enable the CEO to escape accountability for attaining Ends, these policies define limits on operational means, thereby placing boundaries on the authority granted to the CEO. In effect, the board describes those means that would be unacceptable even if they were to work. These are Executive Limitations policies.

7. Policy Sizes:
The board decides its policies in each category first at the broadest, most inclusive level. It further defines each policy in descending levels of detail until reaching the level of detail at which it is willing to accept any reasonable interpretation by the applicable delegatee of its words thus far. Ends, Executive Limitations, Governance Process, and Board-Management Delegation polices are exhaustive in that they establish control over the entire organization, both board and staff. They replace, at the board level, more traditional documents such as mission statements, strategic plans and budgets.

8. Clarity and Coherence of Delegation:
The identification of any delegatee must be unambiguous as to authority and responsibility. No subparts of the board, such as committees or officers, can be given jobs that interfere with, duplicate, or obscure the job given to the CEO.

9. Any Reasonable interpretation:
More detailed decisions about Ends and operational means are delegated to the CEO if there is one. If there is no CEO, the board must delegate to two or more delegatees, avoiding overlapping expectations or causing confusion about the authority of various managers. In the case of board means, delegation is to the CGO unless part of the delegation is explicitly directed elsewhere, for example, to a committee. The delegatee has the right to use any reasonable interpretation of the applicable board policies.

10. Monitoring:
The board must monitor organizational performance against previously stated Ends policies and Executive Limitations policies. Monitoring is for the purpose of discovering if the organization achieved a reasonable interpretation of these board policies. The board must therefore judge the CEO's interpretation for its reasonableness, and the data demonstrating the accomplishment of the interpretation. The ongoing monitoring of board's Ends and Executive Limitations policies constitutes the CEO's performance evaluation.

All other practices, documents, and disciplines must be consistent with the above principles. For example, if an outside authority demands board actions inconsistent with Policy Governance, the board should use a 'required approvals agenda' or other device to be lawful without compromising governance.

Policy Governance is a precision system that promises excellence in governance only if used with precision. These governance principles form a seamless paradigm or model. As with a clock, removing one wheel may not spoil its looks but will seriously damage its ability to tell time. So in Policy Governance, all the above pieces must be in place for Policy Governance to be effective. When all brought into play, they allow for a governing board to realize owner accountability. When they are not used completely, true owner accountability is not available.

Policy Governance boards live these principles in everything they are, do and say.

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