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Board Formation

Jack Peterson

August 15, 2014


Women and men who join the board of a faith-based school are generally drawn to offer their service because they recognize or at least sense that something special is happening at the school that they want to help preserve.  They often desire that that same spirituality influence their own lives.  Despite desiring this “something different,” they can be tempted to respond to a new and unfamiliar way of decision-making with feelings of diffidence and doubt, which can lead them to default to more familiar approaches.


The boards and commissions of faith-based schools hold tremendous responsibility for their organizations and as such have many characteristics and duties in common with the boards of other schools and even businesses.  But in order to sustain the unique charism of faith-based education, trustees must carry out these responsibilities in ways consistent with the world view and spirituality inspired by the Gospel and the teaching of the sponsoring entity, as the teaching of St. Ignatius developed by the Society of Jesus is for Jesuit schools.  The way they carry out their responsibilities will therefore at times contrast with their experience from other organizational settings.  And in order to do this, they need some additional help.  


In my experience, there are five characteristics necessary to sustain a Board formation program:  1) it has to be sequential; 2) it has to be simple but consistent; 3) it has to be spiritual; 4) it has to be the board’s; and 5) it has to be managed.


Sequential.  One of the characteristics of a board is that it is, or should be, bringing on new members every year.  For the person or committee responsible for board formation, this creates a perennial problem.  If they do a wonderful retreat on discernment one year, the next year’s incoming board members won’t have the benefit of it, unless it is repeated each year, which will drain away the interest of the veterans.  Our boards are like our schools in ways we often don’t acknowledge.  We take in new board members each year as freshmen, and we graduate them, usually 3-6 years later.  We wouldn’t give our students the same curriculum each year; nor would we give haphazard exposure to various themes over the course of their four years.  Similarly, with our boards the formational needs of first year members are different from those of veterans and our formation program should take that into account by providing a sequential program of formation beginning anew for each new cohort.


Simple but consistent.  Already, one might suspect that such a sequential program for each cohort could be pretty complex.  It could be.  But here the analogy with the school curriculum ends.  The board formation program does not need to be complicated; it should be geared to the time availability of the board members.  But whatever is done needs to be done consistently.  As the program rolls out, board members will often desire more, but the workload and expectations can and should be dialed up gradually, and with their ownership.


Spiritual.  We often think that business people will balk at giving time to purely “spiritual” activities.  Since most of them are not familiar with silent, imaginative or affective prayer, if left to themselves they will default to what they know best, handling business, including treating prayer as though it were an agenda item.  But that doesn’t mean they don’t desire something deeper.  They may not even know they desire it.  But my experience is that they do.  That’s a big part of why they were attracted to the school and the board in the first place.  And I have found that when shown how and given the time to pray, for instance as St. Ignatius teaches in the Spiritual Exercises, they invariably want more.


The Board’s.  Once they experience what silent, imaginative and affective prayer can give them, once they know what they have been desiring, they can begin taking responsibility for their own formation.  Rather than the spiritual life committee cajoling them, they become ready to articulate their spiritual needs and challenge themselves to deepen their own formation.  Not everyone will, of course.  But that’s okay.  Enough will want it that the board collectively will stop resisting formation and begin seeing it as a benefit of being on the board.


Managed. Despite the board members desiring it, deeper formation, with all its moving parts, still has to be managed.  Calendars must be maintained, reminders sent, rooms scheduled, books ordered, etc.  This is something board members aren’t likely to do well, because the major demands on their lives come from elsewhere.  A board may occasionally have a member with the time and interest to manage the process for a year or two, but it would be better to assign the management to someone in the school.  I have found that the president’s (or principal's) administrative assistant is a good person to manage the process details because once the program is set, he or she, can simply push the buttons to get action steps on people’s plates and the president, or principal, only needs to make sure the board is getting what it needs from the school.


My intention is not to make this all sound simpler than is, but to lift up a few considerations that can be key to sustaining an effective board formation program.  It can be scaled up or down to the appropriate level of the board’s and school’s capacity.  Don’t go for the brass ring the first time round.  Just make sure everyone knows that this is a commitment that the board, with the support of personnel at the school, will sustain for the long run.


Peterson spoke on Strategic Planning at NCEA Convention in Boston


Managing for Mission’s Jack Peterson spoke recently at the National Catholic Education Association’s national convention in Boston this spring.  The convention ran from April 10-13, 2012. Peterson’s topic was Strategic Planning that Works. Based on his experiences leading four successful long-range plans at his own Catholic high school and consulting with numerous other organizations, he explored the present thinking in setting up and executing a strategic planning process and fitting it into the hectic rhythms of the secondary school.  Those who would like a copy of his powerpoint or a 33 page monograph on Strategic Planning for Faith-based Schools can download them from the resources page on the menu bar above, or click on this link.



The Milgard School of Business recently named Jack Peterson its Non-Profit Leader of the Year. To read the article about Jack in the Tacoma News Tribune.

                                                                                                Read the article here>>




Managing for Mission: Pursuing the Magis in Jesuit Schools now available


Managing for Mission lays out the fundamentals of leading a Jesuit high school, or any faith-based organization, to mission excellence.  Drawing on over 30 years in Jesuit school leadership, Jack Peterson provides a framework for understanding the four dimensions of the school in a new way and gives practical advice about how to harness their power.  The book is intended to assist administrators, aspiring administrators and board members both within and outside the Jesuit educational realm.  Available in paperback from, 364 pages.  Also available on Kindle.  



Peterson speaks at International Colloquium on Jesuit Secondary Education in Boston


MfM’s Jack Peterson recently led a workshop on “How the Jesuit School’s Apostolic and Business Models can Support One Another” at the ICJSE in Boston this summer.  Peterson’s workshop took place on Wednesday, August 1, 2012, on the campus of Boston College.


Peterson speaks at Jesuit Secondary Education Presidents and Trustees conferences in New Orleans


MfM’s Jack Peterson gave presentations at the JSEA’s Presidents and Trustees Conferences in New Orleans this January.  Workshop topics were: “The The Relationship/Configuration/Evaluation of Advancement,” “Preparing for the Capital Campaign: the President’s To-do List,” and “Evaluating the President.”  For powerpoints and documents from those presentations, click on more>>



Jack Peterson is the principal for Managing for Mission, which provides administrative consulting for faith-based schools.  Prior to founding  MfM, Peterson worked in faith-based school administration for 32 years.  MfM’s practice includes strategic planning, board development, leadership transitions, fund development and personnel management.

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Is strategic planning necessary for faith-based schools?

Jack Peterson

November 3, 2014


Strategic planning didn’t begin in schools.  It finds its roots in the complex industrial organizations arising at the end of the 19th Century.  But while management experts like Henry Mintzberg can make a case that some businesses are successful without formal planning, using strategies that are more reactive than proactive, it’s difficult to imagine any faith-based schools like ours being able to succeed that way.


Our schools are mission-based organizations.  Sure, businesses claim to have a mission, too.  For Google, for instance, it’s “To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”  But for most businesses—probably even Google—if the opportunity for a higher return on investment waved a flag in front of them, they’d probably adjust their mission to chase after it.  


“If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will do.”  


But as faith-based schools, we know where we’re going—or supposed to be going.  We have a mission, and this mission isn’t just inspiring words.  It really does define why we exist.  If we fail at our mission, we disappear, as surely as a for-profit business that doesn’t get a return on investment for its shareholders.


That’s why, working with faith-based schools, my definition of strategic planning is: “The process of identifying and aligning all the significant factors within a school’s control in order to more effectively accomplish its mission in the face of environmental factors not within its control.”


While there are a number of circumstances today favorable to the faith-based school, there are also a number which are not.  How the school assures the vitality of the apostolic, pedagogical, community and business dimensions of its work is critical to achieving the mission entrusted to it by the Church and ultimately by Christ, our Lord. Strategic Planning is a tool that can unite these dimensions into a coherent, Spirit-led path to the future. It helps the many people involved in the school’s success to understand the decisions they need to make to support a coherent response to the mission.  A sound strategic planning process can help the school attract quality employees and leaders for governance; it can provide a case for philanthropic support and inspire benefactors; it can assure the best use of the school’s resources; it can help the school deal with adverse factors that arise both outside and within the school; and it preserves continuity during leadership transitions in the life of the school.


The greatest criticism of strategic planning by Mintzberg and others is the failure of strategic plans to be implemented.  Mintzberg cites a survey by Fortune magazine that less than 10% of strategies are successfully implemented. Probably the biggest reason for this is that we tend to focus too much on the plan rather than the process that produces it.  


A plan will fail if it’s goals aren’t truly strategic, but it can also fail if school leadership—at all levels—doesn’t learned to think strategically, that is, to distinguish which choices and paths will lead to better accomplishment of the mission and which will not.


A plan will fail if goals aren’t measurable so everyone on the team is headed toward the same goal line.  But it will also fail if leadership at all levels doesn’t learn how to set meaningful, measurable goals.


A plan will fail if it doesn’t take into account the needs and perspectives of all the school’s stakeholders.  But it will also fail if those stakeholders aren’t involved in the plan from its formulation to its implementation.


For us as mission-based schools, not just any road will do. Nor will it do to have administrators, teachers, boards, school commissions, parents, student and benefactors all pursuing their own paths to the mission.


The challenges are simply too great not to be united in meeting them.  


If you want to learn more about how strategic planning can be organized to align your schools energies to better accomplish its mission in the face of the challenges—and opportunities—ahead, a one-page, five-page or 33-page summary can be downloaded under the RESOURCES tab at the top of this web page, or by clicking here.  Or email me at [email protected], and we’ll find a time to talk about your school’s strategic planning challenge.

5 Top Reasons For Board Retreats

Jack Peterson

February 23, 2015


Most boards and school commissions schedule an extended meeting time at least once a year to accomplish what can’t be accomplished during regular meetings.  We call these retreats, although they often aren’t retreats in the traditional sense of taking time away from our routine to center ourselves more on God.  The most common activity at board retreats is planning.  During the course of the year trustees find themselves making many decisions, but they long to step back to see how all these decisions fit into an overall direction for the school.  They realize they need to set aside time to do this.  Planning is an important reason for holding a retreat, but there are four other important ones and with proper design, and coordination with the regular meetings, all five can be accomplished.  Let’s look at each of these five objectives.


Planning: Board planning can range from setting its annual goals to setting a strategic vision for accomplishing school’s mission over the next five to ten years.  If the former, the board can generally use a meeting or two to identify potential goals and use the retreat for deeper discussion and adoption. If the need is for institutional strategic planning, satisfying it may require three major steps.  The first might be a retreat at the end of the year to initialize the process.  Secondly, most of the next school year may be needed for a steering committee and a number of subcommittees to engage the community in helping to develop the plan.  Finally, at the end of the year, the board may need a retreat to thoroughly review and approve the proposed plan. [click here for more on strategic planning]  Whatever the level of planning, it’s important to design the retreat to provide necessary information and incorporate sufficient discussion yet move toward closure in the time the board realistically has available.


Education: School trustees often feel they need more background to do their jobs.  Few of them are drawn from the field of education, and even if they are, most of their professional focus is with their own schools or organizations, not the one they are charged with governing.  It’s impossible to provide them with enough information during regular meetings to give them complete confidence about the decisions they must make.  As a result, they often must defer to the judgment of the administration.  It’s good to trust the administration, but trustees must have enough knowledge themselves to make independent judgments if they are to fulfill their role in a productive way.  So boards will elect to use retreat time to gain a deeper understanding of important topic areas.  Although it’s better to schedule separate education sessions and provide trustees with supplemental materials than using up all the precious retreat time, some strategic education is often appropriate during the retreat.


Formation:  In faith-based schools, it’s not enough for boards to be knowledgeable about the organization, its finances and its pedagogy.  Individually and as a group trustees must embody in their decisions, and even in their personal dispositions, the spirituality and ethos of the school.  To some extent, they bring this with them when they join the board.  But given the responsibility they now have for guiding a ministry, it’s critical that they continue to be fed spiritually. This can be done to some extent during regular meetings, but an opening and closing prayer, as important as they are and as carefully as they may be prepared, simply won’t fill the bill.  Even a personal commitment to spiritual growth doesn’t necessarily translate into a collective commitment to embody the school’s values.  The retreat is an opportune time for the board to renew its commitment the school’s religious foundations and explore how they can be better incorporated into the its work. The challenge is that this takes a special kind of skill.  Sometimes the chair will have the ability to lead formation activities and sometimes the school head will have those skills.  But often the board must call on someone from outside to assist with this component.


Prayer:  Studying the school’s values and spiritual foundations is important, but formation must also include an experiential element.  Here we come closer to the traditional understanding of a retreat as a time away to renew our relationship with God.  While it is the original goal of a retreat, it often gets lost in the press of handling weighty business matters with scarce time available.  Even during regular meetings, boards would do well to pause for silent prayer, reflection on scripture, or other foundational documents and communal prayer.  But these will be more effective if during retreat time the board can go deeper, learn and practice forms of prayer that enrich their reflection, celebrate liturgy together and experience the graces that require time and space to develop.  Again, this requires skills that may or may not be found within the board, but often there is someone in the school or its broader community who can assist the board in developing this dimension of the retreat.  But the board has to see its importance and make a commitment to it.


Team-building:  We don’t often think of boards as teams.  We think of them as people with various connections to the school who assemble to make decisions on behalf of the people the school serves.  As a result, we want them to make those decisions carefully, but also efficiently.  The idea of working on how these people relate to each other as human beings seems like a luxury and not central to the work they do.  And yet we all know the difference between a functional and a dysfunctional board.  A dysfunctional board struggles to get anything decided because members are so distracted by each others’ perceived agendas that they are constantly in defensive mode.  A functional board is one where mutual respect and appreciation allow members to focus on the issues at hand and draw strength from diverse perspectives and skills. I call it traveling at the speed of trust. While boards often feel there’s not enough time for team-building activities, my experience is that they give back more time than they take. The board retreat is a great time for people to interact on a more human, relational level.  It’s best if they can engage in activities that allow them to be more vulnerable and that put everyone on an equal footing.  An overnight retreat is a great way to build relationships, as is simply sharing meals together. I’ve also used everything from sing-alongs and drum circles to chowder cook-offs and frisbee golf to break down the barriers.  Invariably these additions to the agenda meet with suspicion and some anxiety.  But they are often what people say later made the most difference in how they approach their work.


The question is how do we squeeze planning, education, formation, prayer and team-building into one day-long retreat?  You may have noticed as you read the descriptions for each of these, that they are not independent of each other.  Planning always requires some education.  Formation is a form of education.  Prayer is an experiential form of education.  It can also be a great opportunity for team building.  There are ways to blend these elements together.  For one board or commission, some elements may need to be emphasized more than others.  In some cases greater development of an element may have to be take place beyond the retreat day.  For instance, the retreat might kick-off a prayer program that trustees commit to which is revisited briefly at each board meeting throughout the year.  


The key is to be thoughtful, the way schools are in designing their curriculum.  We don’t just look at each subject or class by itself.  We look at the big picture of what we want our students to become, and develop a scope and sequence.  The scope tells us all the outcomes we want our students to achieve and the sequence determines where each outcome will be addressed in the curriculum.  As school boards and commissions, shouldn’t we use an analogous approach to design our meeting and retreat time?  


I hope the foregoing thoughts provide you with some principles for designing your school’s board or commission retreat.  And if you need help, that’s why we’re here.  If you have questions about how to design or lead a board retreat, feel free to contact me by going to my Contact page.

5 Core Requisites for Development Success

Jack Peterson

May 5, 2015


Since faith-based schools rely heavily on fundraising to support their mission, I want to write briefly this month about the keys to successful development.


This blog post will be brief because there are only 5 core requisites for a successful development program.  The good news is that if you focus on these five, your development program will be successful.  The bad news is that you have to focus on all five.  They are like links in a chain and weakness in any one will prevent the development program from reaching its potential.


The five core requisites of development are:



Let’s look at each one.



CASE refers to the reason for supporting our school. It is what motivates a donor to give.  We might think that the CASE simply means “what the school needs,” or maybe its “vision.” While the CASE is built on the school’s needs and vision, if we really want to motivate people, we have to go a step further.  We have to build the case around their needs, their passions, their vision.  A compelling CASE will always match the school’s aspirations to the aspirations of the prospective donor.



That brings us to the second requisite: PROSPECTS.  Clearly, to accomplish our development objectives, we need enough potential donors who have the capacity to give.  But to make the PROSPECTS link in the chain strong enough to support our development effort, we can’t just have a list of names.  We not only need to know how to contact them, but also what their giving capacity and interests are.  Why is that?  Because we will approach people differently depending on how and how much they are able to help.  We owe it to our donors and stakeholders to spend our development RESOURCES wisely.  So to be successful, we need to have enough PROSPECTS and to know enough about them to ASK in the proper way.



The 3rd requisite is ASKS.  We need a way to present our CASE to our prospective donors and invite them to join us in our work.  And the ASKS will be different for different PROSPECTS.  One size does not fit all.  We need efficient ways to ask large groups of donors who can only give small gifts, and we need hand-crafted approaches for those capable of a substantial investment in our mission. We know that to reach our potential we need to attract those major gifts, but if we over-rely on auctions, or mailings or a phonathon, that just isn’t going to happen—at least not very often.



Which brings us to our 4th requisite, ASKERS.  This is often the bottleneck.  We can have a great CASE, plenty of qualified PROSPECTS, and ways of making ASKS, but it comes down to people actually doing it.  Is our staff making asks or are they too pre-occupied with other activities and just can’t get around to it?  If so, our development potential will continue to lie beyond our reach.  We can enlist help from volunteers, but remember that volunteers need to be recruited, trained and supported properly.  This requires an investment of time, but it will pay back if it generates enough people to do the asking.



And this finally brings us to RESOURCES.  It costs money to raise money, and another bottleneck will form if we underestimate the investment that will be required.  Spending $2,500 on research, travel and renderings to ask one person for a gift can feel extravagant, but if the ASK is for $250,000 we’d be foolish not to spend the money to do that ASK right.


So don’t get distracted by all the background noise.  Focus on 5 core requisites—CASE, PROSPECTS, ASKS, ASKERS and RESOURCES.  If they are strong, your school will move toward its full development potential, securing its ability to accomplish the mission God has entrusted to it.


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