First Unitarian Church of Omaha
Governance Task Force
We are a small band of volunteers (Beth Conover, Kate Rohde, Bill Ross, John Wagner, and Ben Wallace) who have been tasked by your Board of Trustees to look into the way we get things done in the church. This process started because a number of people who volunteer in the church have expressed concern that our governance process (i.e. our organization structure, governing documents, methods of making decisions, etc.) tends to hinder us rather than help us. As a result, the board has been spending time considering this issue for the last couple of years and they have come to the conclusion that we can improve the way we do things.
As a first step, the Board brought in Dan Hotchkiss from the Alban Institute last spring to spend a little time with us. He met with many members of the board, staff, and others and conducted an open forum after the church service on June 1, 2008. After reviewing the results of Dan’s visit, your board voted to form the GTF and established our goals. Given the size of the task, this is not a short term assignment and the board has engaged Dan effective January 2009 to work with us over the next eighteen months. We have already obtained and read copies of Dan's forthcoming book, Governance and Ministry: Rethinking Board Leadership, and we plan to use it as a blueprint for our work.
We recommend Dan's book as an excellent read for anyone who is interested in thinking more deeply about church leadership. It's not just a primer on governance, it is also a spiritual consideration of the meaning of church leadership. If you are a member of our church, just contact the GTF and we will put a copy in your hands.
The book uses a number of terms differently than you might expect, so we have included a glossary in hopes that it is helpful to you. When you see a word that is formatted as a blue hyperlink, you can be pretty sure that it has a specific meaning in the book.
We are also indebted to those Unitarian Universalist churches who have preceded us in the quest for policy governance® and have been kind enough to post their policies on the Internet (see references below). The UUA has also become an advocate of this type of governance for congregations and to manage its own affairs.
One of the things that we have learned is that “governance” is not a word that one encounters very often in polite conversation and there remains some confusion about exactly what we exist to accomplish. Our work is to examine the way that we go about making decisions in the church and also to consider the way that we organize ourselves to get those decisions implemented. The goal is to determine if our current policies and structure still offer the best vehicles to achieve our vision or to learn if there are improvements that might be more suited to our current opportunities. You will find information about the church's current governance process on our Board of Trustees page.
We are trying to closely follow the procedures that are set forth in Dan's book. Step one is to learn as much as possible from the people involved. To get the conversations underway, we scheduled gatherings immediately following each Sunday Service on both February 8th and February 15th. Thanks to those of you who participated in these meetings and in other gatherings that followed. We intend to hold many more discussions so there will be other opportunities for all to participate. In addition, we will be making regular monthly reports in The Flame.
The central tenet of Dan's approach to rethinking board leadership is that the Board's focus should be on the long-term well-being of the church rather than on administrative detail. After discussion, the Board affirmed its first policy which sets forth the nature of board work.
This policy implies that there will be a corresponding ministry structure, created by policy, and peopled by staff (both paid and unpaid), that implements the Board’s strategies and focuses their attention on effectively doing the day to day work of the church. This policy on ministry work was affirmed at the July 2009 board meeting.
Our remaining policies are being built on this foundation. Here is a draft of the policies of the polices that the Board has affirmed to date. These draft policies are now published for discussion by the congregation. The draft is not complete. The GTF needs to include many additional policies before the work is done.
For more information or to express your opinion at any time, please contact any member of the GTF or email us at email@example.com.
Special Governance Edition of the Flame (large 1.6mb pdf file) - April 2010
Glossary: Definitions of governance terms.
Policies Adopted:Those policies that have been formally adopted by the Board of Trustees and thus form a part of our governing documents.
Policies Affirmed: The current list of policies affirmed (accepted for wider discussion but not yet adopted) to date by the Board of Trustees (in Adobe Acrobat Format).
Proposed Policies: The policy changes (shown in red) that will be presented for possible affirmation at the next Board of Trustees meeting (in Adobe Acrobat Format).
Proposed Vote of Confidence by the Congregation (in Adobe Acrobat Format).
Proposed By-Law Changes to reduce size of the Board of Trustees to 8 members (in Adobe Acrobat Format). .
Congregational Reports: A journal of the monthly reports submitted to the congregation in The Flame (in Adobe Acrobat Format).
Unity Consulting's Policy Governance Survey Results
UU University 2009 Governance Track Information
Example policies from other UU churches
The Carver Policy Governance® model: John & Miriam Carver pioneered the concept of policy governance in non-profit organizations.
Updated MaY 17, 2010 wfr
First Unitarian Church of Omaha • 3114 Harney Street • Omaha, NE 68131
phone 402-345-3039 • fax 402-346-2662