2. Transparency: A necessity for healthy church board operations

How does a church board, the congregation and the staff know that the church’s mission is being accomplished? The simple answer is a commitment to transparency. But what does transparency look like in a church context? ‘Transparency’ for a board has internal and external components. Internally, a board is operating with transparency if the staff has enough confidence to share both good and bad news. In other words the board members have access to information that enables them to understand the real health of the organization. As well, transparency is occurring when board members have enough security to speak truthfully with one another. External transparency would involve the board’s disclosure of good and bad news to the members of the organization, as well as outside stakeholders (i.e. donors and clients), through annual reports and other regular methods of communication.

Some board members may be uncomfortable with transparency. Confidentiality cannot be compromised within a board, but transparency, when done properly, does not compromise the board’s confidentiality. For example, no one outside of the board needs to know the content of a chief executive’s performance evaluation, but they should be aware that it is being done and it is resulting in a healthier and stronger organization.

Sometimes the board may feel overwhelmed with too much information. Yet, board members have to know the hard facts in order to provide the best wisdom to the organization and also to carry forward their fiduciary responsibilities.

The advantages of operating with transparency far outweigh the disadvantages. For instance, when an organization shares a major challenge, it invites its key supporters to become active participants in finding a good solution. When good and bad news is shared regularly, then the surprise factor is reduced. As well, when the pertinent facts are on the table, it enables advisors, both internal and external, to assist in the planning and strategic development of the organization.

What are some things a board member or board chair might do to improve the transparency quotient? When the board meeting is concluding, members should ask for an opportunity to evaluate the meeting? They might consider whether the board had all of the necessary information to make good decisions. Were good, insightful, hard questions asked to make sure that decisions were thoroughly vetted? Does the board have a communications strategy that outlines how board decisions are shared with staff, donors and clients? Is this being followed? When things are going wrong, how does a whistle blower gain the ear of the right person and what protection is offered to such a person? Are conflicts of interest stated and known as decisions are being made?

In Christian organizations transparency, honesty and integrity are significant values, whose practice is necessary for organizational health. Living them out is the challenge.

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