Little Red Bus — Your Vehicle for Building a Stronger Governing Board

Little Red Bus icon

Charting the Course

It's a bright sunshiny morning. The Little Red Bus has a full tank of gas and five eager passengers on board, ready for an enjoyable day trip. Ned, the driver, is behind the wheel and ready to go. First, he asks where his passengers want to go so he can chart the course for the day. To his surprise and confusion, Nancy wants to take the bus to see her sister in the next town over. Axel wants to go fishing at a nearby lake where he's been trying for years to catch Ol' Barney, the legendary largemouth bass. Bill has his sights on the nearest shopping center, while Joan and Phil really don't care where the bus goes. They're quite happy playing cards as the bus rolls along. Because of time limits, the bus can go to only one destination and the passengers have to make a group decision where that will be. After an hour of heated discussion with a few personal attacks thrown in, Ned decides to try to satisfy everyone and sets out on a contorted course hoping to make everyone happy. But, after following the zig-zag route he charted, Ned discovers that the bus has run out of gas and it sputters to a stop in the middle of the road. The day trip has ended in failure.

How does this translate into the experiences of a governing board? If an organization is to reach its goal – its mission – it must have a common understanding of that mission and it must make decisions based on that mission. Energy and resources spent attempting to meet multiple and conflicting priorities result in poor outcomes. Mission creep – the tendency to broaden the mission – most often results in weakening the central purpose of the organization.

Questions for consideration:

  • Is there a common mission for the organization?
  • Do all of the board members know and understand this common mission?
  • Are organizational decisions made on the basis of the organization's mission?
  • If board members can't reach agreement on a key decision, are they willing to compromise for the sake of the mission of the organization or do all members feel that they need to get their own way?
  • Are all board members actively engaged in charting the course or do some take a passive role and simply "go along for the ride"?
  • Does the board send a clear and realistic message to its executive leadership regarding the direction in which the organization needs to move?

Need help with board development?
Contact Jim Storm at jstormcod1@aol.com or 612-616-0256.

Little Red Bus — Your Vehicle for Building a Stronger Governing Board

Little Red Bus icon

Al Capone, Jr

The 36 passengers on the Little Red Bus (LRB) found it increasingly cumbersome and very time consuming to make group decisions and monitor the business of operating the LRB. As a result, they incorporated and created a governing board of eight that would take on those responsibilities. Prospective board members were told that their job would be an easy one as the driver of the LRB was very competent and needed very minimal oversight.

Unfortunately, once selected, the new board members rarely monitored the business operation of the LRB and oftentimes failed to show up for meetings. All felt that the driver, Al Capone, Jr., although stuck with a very poor name, would handle things well. At meetings, they would listen to Al's operating and financial reports while occasionally nodding off. After all, Al was the expert.

It came as a great surprise when the president of the board received a phone call from the bank indicating that the LRB had no money in the bank and was, in fact, overdrawn.

Board members were further shocked to learn that good old Al had been using business funds for his personal use. To make matters even worse, the board members learned that they were personally responsible for the debt incurred.

A key function of a governing board is financial oversight. How is the money being generated and how is it being spent? A failure to attend board meetings and to carefully review the financial standing of the organization are ultimately failures of the Board with individual board members bearing personal responsibility. Pay up!

Questions for consideration:

  • Do all board members understand their legal responsibility of financial oversight?
  • Do all board members understand the importance of their showing up in some manner at board meetings and reviewing the financial information?
  • Do all board members understand that it is the executive director's responsibility to provide them with accurate up-to-date financial information?
  • Are all board members willing to see their names in public should a financial scandal arise in the organization?

Need help with board development?
Contact Jim Storm at jstormcod1@aol.com or 612-616-0256.