Posts Tagged ‘non-profit’


Boards Gone Wild or Why Organizational Values Matter!

Posted on: February 22nd, 2010 by Hayim Herring

Mission, vision, values….sometimes this last item—values—is omitted from an organization’s foundational documents. Speaking directly, this is a mistake. I say this definitively because I’ve attended too many meetings in synagogues and other Jewish organizations that desperately needed some guidance in Jewish values.

Of course, I’ve also worked with many committees and boards marked by thoughtfulness, caring, dedication to the work, sensitivity and decency. I don’t want to minimize these experiences, which draw in many others to become volunteers for Jewish organizations. But I’ve also lost count of the number of times of people who were great volunteers left a synagogue because it actually threatened their positive, spiritual feelings.

Sad to say, I’ve heard or seen demeaning speech, hypocrisy, selfish behavior, verbally bullying, shouting and I am appalled to admit—an out-of-control individual hurl an object at another person (more than once). In beginning my consultancy practice, I’ve even been warned by caring colleagues to make sure to develop some portion of my clientele outside of the Jewish community because they find it too emotionally difficult to work exclusively within the Jewish community.

That’s why I advocate for groups creating a values statement. A values statement is a list of ideals to which anyone involved in an organization agrees to commit. It is a purposeful declaration of how people in the organization will treat one another and represent themselves to the broader public in carrying out their work. What are some of the typical statements that appear on those organizations which have a statement of values?

While non-sectarian organizations will likely exclude the first value, they still capture its major implications in the second.

As with mission and vision statements, so go values statements: if they aren’t regularly referenced, they won’t influence the culture of the organization. But when they are, and when people are held accountable for their behavior when a value is modeled or violated, others will learn that values aren’t mere organizational window dressing.

Does your organization have a values statement? Would you please share it with us on this blog or send us a link to an electronic copy? What is your experience with values statements—have they helped to maintain civility in the way that your church, synagogue or organization operates?

Thanks for sharing your experience!

Rabbi Hayim Herring

Who Is Your Governator?

Posted on: January 28th, 2010 by Hayim Herring

Congregational governance-what do you think of when you hear this phrase? Does the image of endless committee meetings come to mind? What about board meetings that result in squabbling? Is it clear when staff should take the lead on an issue and volunteers should? You want a true partnership between volunteers and staff, but the goal of sharing governance responsibilities seems elusive.

I’ll be writing about the issue of governance for the next several weeks, so I’ll begin with a general definition. Governance is the term that encompasses how staff members and volunteers conduct the work of the congregation with one another, with the congregation and with the broader community in a way that fulfills their legal, ethical and spiritual responsibilities.

Some congregational leaders-both professional and lay-characterize governance as the “business” side of the organization. They have an explicit or implicit understanding that staff members should steer clear of governance issues. That is a guaranteed recipe for dysfunction. The other side of the coin is when clergy members arrogate too much power for themselves, with the leadership’s tacit agreement, and undermine the governance structures in the congregation. That scenario usually ends in destruction. So if you have one person who is perceived to be the congregational “governator,” you have a problem!

High-achieving, dynamic, healthy congregations emerge from a partnership between staff and lay leaders in how they govern the congregation. And the congregational board is at the heart of that relationship. Based on my observations and experience, I will even go one step further: vital institutions are always characterized by effective board leadership, and organizations with weak board leadership will muddle through at best. My impression is that most congregational boards are just adequate. That is not to say that talented individuals don’t serve on synagogue boards-they definitely do! But, as a board, the sum of parts is less than the whole and over time, the mediocre quality of boards drives out the excellence that a board is capable of achieving.

 So take a look at your own community and assess which organizations or congregations seem to be doing relatively well. What do you know about their board leadership? How do staff and volunteers work together? Is governance transparent or is there a perception that only a few privileged individuals are involved in decision-making?

 I also want to invite you to ask your own questions about governance-what will help you raise the level of congregational governance? There’s much riding on these issues, especially in this turbulent time for organizations.


Rabbi Hayim Herring