From the big picture, to day-to-day operations

Below is a presentation I did at our Board retreat this morning. The presentation is titled, “How to take big-picture goals and spread them through every aspect of congregational life.” I’m posting this here both in case any of our Board members want to review some of the things I said, and in case any of my other readers are congregational leaders with an interest in this topic. (If you were there yesterday, you’ll see I didn’t follow this script exactly.)

How to take big-picture goals and spread them through every aspect of congregational life

One of the hardest things to do as a Board member is to relate the congregation’s big-picture goals with the specifics of your portfolio or task assignment. If the congregation has a goal of excellent Sunday morning services, and you’re charged with putting solar panels on the roof, it might be hard to see the connection between the two. Or if you’re trying to run the annual canvass, and you’re struggling to get those last few pledges in, you don’t necessarily have time to worry about excellent Sunday services.

But I would like to suggest to you that your primary task as a member of the Board of Trustees is to keep your eyes on the big picture. You may do other things — I suspect if the president of our Board has anything to say about it, you will do other things — but your primary moral and ethical obligation is to make sure the institution carries out its central purpose, its mission.

Let me review for you what the central purpose of UUCPA is. We say that our mission is to transform ourselves, each other, and the world. Obviously our primary means for carrying out this mission, our flagship product if you will, are our Sunday morning services. Sunday morning services involve the people who come to the service itself, but also the choir, the Forum, the Sunday school and youth group, the people who make and eat lunches and brunches, the facilities people who maintain the campus, the finance people and ushers who count the money, the membership folks who greet newcomers, the people who answer the phone calls asking about our services, the Web managers who maintain information on our Web site directing people to Sunday services, and so on. So if you’re a volunteer who’s making an attractive, easily navigated Web site that directs people to Sunday services, you are actually doing your part to further the mission of UUCPA — because you’re helping people to show up so they can transform themselves and each other and the world.

Now as a Board member, you have to constantly keep your eyes on the mission — but mission is absolutely huge, and it can be very long-term, so the Board also has to come up with more specific goals for where we are now as an institution. For example, in the fall of 2009, we had a consultant named Alice Mann come and tell us that we are at an awkward size. If our congregation lost 50 people, it would be much easier to communicate and get things done. And if our congregation added another 50 people, there would be an economy of scale that would make everything much easier. So Alice Mann suggested that we should add another 50 people, measured in terms of average annual attendance of adults and children.

Now how does this relate to our mission? Well, because we’re at an awkward size, we’re constantly spinning our wheels, and bumping into one another (figuratively speaking), and wasting a lot of energy. So we are not totally focused on our mission the way we could be. Plus, if we don’t add another 50 people, we are going to face major financial cutbacks that will have a negative effect on our mission. So for institutional health, we don’t want to lose 50 people, we want to add another 50 people.

OK, we’re going to add another 50 people. And now I am going to use one of those cheesy acronyms that you have heard way too often in the work world. To add another 50 people, we need S.M.A.R.T goals: goals that are

Agreed-upon by stakeholders,
Realistic, and

So let’s look at how we might really do this. Let’s make this even more specific. We know that we are going to add another 50 people as measured by Sunday morning attendance, and let’s say we’re going to do it in the coming two years. We also know that we get close to 200 newcomers every year, which means we only need to retain about 25% of our newcomers (on the assumption that most people actually attend about 50% of Sundays).

But just saying “50 more people” is not specific enough. Let’s look at the programs on Sunday mornings and get more specific. Which programs do we know motivate people to get out of bed on Sunday mornings and actually show up? Here are some very rough estimates:

Attend service (100 out of 190)
Attend Forum (20 out of 190)
Attend Sunday school (45 out of 190)
Sing in choir (15 out of 190)
Usher/sound (5 out of 190)
Lead services (3 out or 190)
Special events (varies)
(Doesn’t add up to 190 due to rounding)

OK, now we look at that, and we say to ourselves: Which of those numbers can we raise? And here’s one obvious answer: we could add more kids in the Sunday school. (I’ll bet you’re not surprised that I think of that first!) Let’s say we decide can add 8 kids in the coming year; with an average of 1.3 parents per kid, that’s about 18 added people total. That’s pretty specific. That’s also measurable. It’s agreed upon by all the stakeholders — we’re not acting like loose cannons by saying this. It’s realistic — we have that many kids visiting us, we have the existing capacity. And it’s time-bound — we have a deadline, we can develop a pretty good timeline to make this happen.

That was a demonstration of how to set a SMART goal. We have gone through the process of setting some SMART goals. Let’s take the next step — I want to show you how you, as a Board member, can help make this happen.

I’m going to pick on T——, because her portfolio is children and youth programming. So let’s imagine that we are T——, and that we know we want to add 8 to our average attendance in the coming year. Now let me ask you a stupid question: does T—— go out and kidnap 8 kids and make them start coming to Sunday school? No, of course not! Let me ask another stupid question: does T—— actually do all the work herself to add those 8 kids and their 1.3 parents each? No, of course not! So who is going to do the work? List them for me…

Children and Youth Religious Education (CYRE) Committee
Sunday school teachers
youth advisors
Assoc. Minister of Religious Education (MRE)
Membership Committee
special events coordinators
Religious Education Assistant
Senior Minister
etc., etc.

If I’m T——, here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to meet with the CYRE Committee and the Minister of Religious Education and I’m going to say, “Hey, we need to add another 8 kids plus their parents this coming year, how we gonna do it?” And since I’m on the CYRE Committee and I am the MRE, I can tell you what the answer is going to be: “We’re gonna make sure we have super-duper Sunday school; we’re gonna have fun special events on Sundays, and social events for families other days, because we know that increases attendance and keeps people with us; and we’re gonna have an awesome spring project. Oh, and we’re going to make sure we check in with our constituency to find out what they think the strengths and weaknesses of the program are.” This is, in fact, exactly what the CYRE Committee and I have been saying to each other.

Now what’s T——‘s next step? Is she just going to sit there and think to herself, “Cool, these people obviously have it covered, I can just coast”? No, she’s not. Because she knows that the CYRE Committee and I have been doing exactly this for two years now, and we haven’t recorded any measurable growth. So T——, being a polite person, is going to say, “Is there any place that you can think of to make growth happen where you just don’t have the tools or where with all to make it happen?” And the CYRE Committee is going to say, “Yes. We can’t get enough volunteer teachers for the 11:00 Sunday school, and we know there’s growth potential there. And we can’t get enough volunteers for summer Sunday school, and we know we lose people over the summer.” And then T—— is going to come to me, and ask the same question, and I’m going to give the same answers, and I’m going to add, “Also, what I don’t understand is why we have no gay couples with kids; we’ve had come gay couples with kids check us out, but they don’t stick around; I mean, we have lesbian couples with kids, but the gay couples don’t stick. And the youth group is kinda struggling; we lose two thirds of our kids after they go through Coming of Age.”

So now T—— is beginning to see both strengths and weaknesses. And her job is not to solve those problems. Her job, as a Board member, is:

1. To check in
calls, meetings, at least monthly
2. To encourage
sounding board, coach, find resources
3. To keep track
watch the numbers, sort through data
4. To hold accountable

Repeat at least monthly!!!

So T—— will be in regular contact with her people, calling, meeting, checking in, attending meetings as needed. And she will be cheering people on, encouraging them, serving as a sounding board, maybe coaching them if she has the skills, helping them find resources. And she is going to keep track — she is going to ask for monthly attendance data, and compare it to last year’s, and work through that data looking for trends. And then she’s going to hold people accountable — if there’s no increase, she’s going to point that out, kindly, but firmly.

It should be obvious that T—— will be communicating with her people, but she will also be communicating with the Board. Every month, she will report on how she’s checked in. She will pass on requests for resources as need be. She will report numbers every month. And when she reports to the Board, she will hold the congregation accountable for these goals just as she’s holding the committee accountable.

Let me explain that last point. T—— will be working closely with me, the MRE, and she can get away with delegating a lot of this to me. But she can hold others accountable in a way that I cannot. As Board members, a big part of your job is to hold the congregation accountable to the goals we have all set together. Most often this means finding the money to make programs happen. This can also mean resolving conflicts between two committees. This can also mean reminding the congregation — congregations are notorious for forgetting the goals they set — reminding the congregation of our shared goals and mission. And so this means that you, as Board members, also have to chastise each other when you’re not raising the money, and forgetting the goals — you are the ones who hold each other accountable.

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3 thoughts on “From the big picture, to day-to-day operations”

  1. Kim @ 2 — Yes, I am flossing every day.

    You write: “So, how do you get those eight new kids and their parents to come and stay?”

    I’d like to say it’s the wonderful Sunday school programs we offer. But that’s only what gets them in the door. I think what keeps them is that the parents in our congregation are very welcoming to each other.

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