What Is Policy Governance?

Governance refers to an organization’s decision-making process. Policy Governance is a model for Boards of Trustees of non-profit organizations (primarily). Policy Governance for CVUUS means that the Board of Trustee’s job is to set clear policies that reflect the congregation’s vision and mission. The Board empowers staff and volunteers to implement those policies within well-defined limitations.

Why change our model of governance?

Our model of governance served us well when we were small. As we have grown, members have become frustrated with a governing structure that seems complicated, obscure, and hard to access. Many UU churches around the country have embraced Policy Governance or are in the process of doing so, as is the UUA itself. The model has helped to revitalize, streamline and clarify the operations of our sister congregations. We have good resources to assist us.

What are the advantages?

  • The Board stops micromanaging and is free to focus on “the big picture.”
  • The Board sets policy in the spirit of religious leadership, reflecting the ambitions and desires of the congregation.
  • The Board and congregation have an ongoing dialog regarding our vision and mission.
  • Groups within the congregation have clear paths of communication, making it easier to get things done.
  • Ministers of other UU churches say their congregations accomplish more.
  • Staff and program leaders have clear goals and parameters and are free to work creatively.
  • Clarity of roles and responsibilities results in greater accountability.

What will it cost?

No additional costs are anticipated.

How will it work?

Day to day, little will change. The Board has established an Executive Team (E-Team), which will work with volunteers to execute the goals set by the Board in its ongoing consultation with the congregation. The Board monitors progress through reports by the Executive Team, as well as through direct contact with the congregation and committees.

Who’s on the Executive Team?

  • Minister
  • Office Administrator
  • Director of Religious Education
  • Two Board-appointed lay leaders

What the Executive Team changes?

The Board will seek new members and redesign roles for the Team as needed.

But we elected the Board, not the Executive Team. Isn’t this somehow undemocratic? What about the By-Laws?

The By-laws charge the Board to direct the administration of the church and, with Policy Governance, the Board-appointed Executive Team acts on behalf of the congregation as reflected in Board policy. Thus the Board ensures that the congregation’s needs and goals are paramount. Policy Governance helps bring us into full compliance with our By-laws.

How will this affect our minister and staff?

The minister’s administrative tasks will now be shared by two other staff members and two lay leaders. Pastoral and other ministerial duties won’t change, but the minister will now work in partnership with a Board that more clearly sees its role as one of religious leadership and ministry. Ministers of other UU congregations using Policy Governance say they are less encumbered and more effective. And staff will have as much latitude as possible in doing their jobs (within boundaries set by the Board).

What about committees?

The many program and social action committees at CVUUS are the heart and essence of this congregation. Through policy, the Board instructs the Executive Team to help committees flourish. As a reflection of the purpose of this institution, the Board is committed to monitoring our progress toward our vision through the work of committees.

But how do we talk to the Board itself?

Contact a Board member. Attend a Board meeting. By embracing Policy Governance, the Board recommits itself to focusing on the vision and voice of the congregation. The Board will also conduct regular forums and opportunities for communication with the congregation as a whole and in smaller groups.

What will the Board’s work be?

A Policy Governance-based Board of Trustees has three main tasks:

  • To work with the congregation to determine the ends of the organization: Why does CVUUS exist?
  • To set policy designed to further those ends.
  • To monitor progress towards those ends (and revise policy as needed).

Isn’t the Board abdicating its responsibility?

No. By delegating the day-to-day decision-making, the Board is free to focus on the vision and mission of the congregation. The Board retains final responsibility and gains the freedom to educate itself in order to shoulder that responsibility well.

What if there are problems?

There will be, just as there are now. Policy Governance is designed to respond to the needs of the congregation. When problems arise, the Board and the Executive Team will have the flexibility to address them in the best possible way. The Board has committed to the Policy Governance model, but specific policies-means and ends-are examined continuously and can be revised as circumstances change.

How can I learn more?

Talk to a Board member, attend a Board meeting, participate in the “ends process” meetings, or go the CVUUS website (cvuus.org) for more information. See, also, the full CVUUS Governance Manual. The UUA lists many additional resources on Policy Governance for UU congregations.