Friday, March 5, 2021

It's Lonely at the Top

 Whoever coined the phrase, “It’s lonely at the top”, knew what they were saying.

Often, leaders are in a position of not being able to openly discuss critical issues, whether they involve privacy, or considering countless intended and unintended consequences of actions that a CEO alone is ultimately responsible for anticipating. There are areas that only executive committees of boards and God can be sought out for help.

On an after-Christmas morning, years ago, as I awaited the start of our belated gift exchange – now that all the “kids” were home – I sat on the couch with a load of issues weighing on me heavily. I picked up a book at random, hoping that mindless reading would chase some of these wearisome thoughts from my mind, if only for a few moments. But they hung there, and I closed my eyes not wishing them to betray the level of anguish I felt. As I sat there, not hardly breathing, music began to reach my heart; notes that my daughter had been playing on the piano, but somehow just started to reach me in the midst of this turmoil.

The soothing music began to draw the anguish away and the thoughts began evaporating from my mind. My heartbeat, which just moments before had been heavy and obvious, now softened and calmed. A deep breath arose within my chest and exhaled as if the music itself was reaching in and drawing out of me the tension and concerns that were binding me tightly.

As the weight rose from me I opened my eyes and watched out our living room window as a beautiful sloop slowly sailed across the bay. I recalled a day of sailing in San Diego bay some years ago and the feeling of being drawn along by the wind and only the slightest movement of the wheel guiding its direction; that effortless pressure to an unseen rudder aided by the invisible force of the wind took us across the bay and out the channel. That day was awesome – and I now felt as though I was out there on that sloop and nothing was holding me back.

The last notes dissipated, and another deep breath subsided within me. I asked Molly what that song was. Almost knowing what I was feeling, she silently arose and handed me the paper – an Order of Service from our church – and she pointed to the lines of the hymn:

How sweet the name of Jesus sounds in a believer’s ear!
It soothes his sorrows, heals his wounds,
And drives away his fear.
It makes the wounded spirit whole
And calms the troubled breast;
“Tis manna to the hungry soul, and to the weary, rest.
How Sweet the Name, John Newton & Thomas Hastings

Whoever coined the phrase, “It’s lonely at the top”, didn’t know what they were saying, and couldn't see Who was there all along.

Criticism of Leaders

 Criticism is likely the most devastating issue facing all leaders (not just the church) . . . and how leaders face criticism will make or break them. Seeing and accepting what we need to change can help us move through it to successfully deal with hidden issues - or what we might be blind to.

Thom Rainer's blog post helps identify critics and our response to them: 

First, realize that criticism is inevitable. Anyone in a position of leadership will face criticism. Deal with it prayerfully and courageously, but accept it as a part of your leadership that it will never go away . . . All criticisms sting, at least for most of us. But not all criticisms are bad for us. Indeed, in many cases our leadership and ministry can be more effective if we deal with critics in more redemptive ways.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Communities of Faith at Risk

Faith-based nonprofits and religious orders have reason to be concerned with the outcomes of the coming election. Government agencies at every level are on a path to completely secularize our society and any organization whose services have a basis in faith and promoting spiritual life-change.

Hillary Clinton has stated that religious (i.e. biblical) beliefs that are contrary to modern liberal dogma must be changed. She got strong support for her view this week from a newly released report by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. This report attacks religious freedom and declares that religious liberty must be subordinated to civil rights laws. The report is a declaration of war against religious freedom.

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights (USCCR) report, "Peaceful Coexistence: Reconciling Nondiscrimination Principles with Civil Liberties," is a shocking example of the war against religious freedom in America. The recently released Commission's report is a shameful anti-American and anti-God document that trashes religious freedom.

Martin Castro, named USCCR chairman by President Obama in 2011, says that the words "religious freedom" and "religious liberty" have become merely code words for intolerance, Christian supremacy, racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, and therefore must yield before LGBT anti-discrimination laws. Regarding sexual orientation and gender identity, this report also does not support those people who hold to the religious belief that marriage is reserved to one man and one woman as they provide services such as marriage licenses, photography, cake decorating or flower arranging. (I wonder when we'll see people of other religions face this issue)

The focus of the "Peaceful Coexistence" report states that granting religious exemptions to nondiscrimination laws "significantly infringes" on the civil rights of those claiming civil rights protections on the basis of "race, color, national origin, sex, disability status, sexual orientation and gender identity." The report calls for laws that eliminate exemptions or accommodation for religious convictions.

Chairman Castro is out of touch with reality and with our Constitution. He and the other members of the Commission who agree with him want to throw out the First Amendment and trash religious freedom whenever faith and practice collide with an intolerant secular agenda. The report is literally a declaration of war against religious freedom. George Washington said anyone who works against the twin pillars of religion (faith) and morality does not understand the foundations of our Republic.

I feel that time is limited for faith-based ministries to continue serving as they do now. There have already been HUD supported lawsuits claiming discrimination by those who had voluntarily requested a shelter's religious program, who later chose to stop participating in it but demanding to stay in the shelter. They sued even after the shelter assisted in finding alternative shelter for them. This shelter came very close to losing the case. HUD is using very broad language to define a "residence", thus, trying to force long-term shelters that offer biblical recovery programs to abide by Fair Housing and Employment regulations.

Another at risk issue is the lawful ability of an organization to fill positions by those of like faith. Imagine being forced to allow an atheist to teach a Christian discipleship course . . . It's already been in the courts!

Communities and organizations of every faith need to join in supporting one another as we protect the integrity of our programs.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Demonstrating Donor Due Diligence

As a major donor to a large nonprofit charity or foundation, what due diligence do you perform to ensure the board leadership is making unbiased decisions as disinterested board members? If your answer is none, you are making poor investment judgments. Just as you would examine an investment prospectus, you should perform similar due diligence ensuring the board director's decisions are being made "at arm’s length." 
Especially during an executive search, directors may make decisions based upon their personal bias or connections, not solely on the ability and experience of the candidate who will best bring sustainability and move the organization forward.

As an "investor" in a nonprofit or foundation, ask for search committee and board minutes to examine their hiring policies, process and judgment. If the search committee is limited to too few members, lacks transparency, fails to include major donors, or other directors are told not to refer candidates, I would question the board’s process and lack of policy and transparency. If the evidence indicates any of these issues, at the least I would address these issues with the board - at the most I would immediately remove my investments.

As representatives of the public, 501(c)(3) corporation directors are ethically and morally bound to leave self-interest at the door, seeking only the interest of the organization, donors and those receiving public benefit. Your investments and your community deserve no less.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Online Assessment Tools for Identifying Organizational Issues

Nonprofit Leader,

As an Executive Director I often wanted to know how well my board and staff understood our organization’s mission and vision, and if they were being clarified well enough.  I needed to assess the awareness of my board of how critical their understanding our programs and networking was to the organization and to our position in the community.  
Each time I looked over an organization’s financials and fundraising, I found areas needing improving, and fundraising issues that the staff and board had not recognized had changed over time.  It was that process of discovery and analysis that helped me revitalize several stagnant nonprofits and help them thrive. 

It was the fresh perspective of an outsider that made the difference.  In many cases a consultant is hired to show an organization’s leaders what they have been missing and help them make the right changes.  Some of the leadership and/or staff may recognize the issues, but may not be able to be the agents for the needed change.  Thus, the third-party consultant is engaged.  But how do small, struggling under-funded nonprofits afford the rates for an experienced consultant?  They can’t, and so they keep struggling through tough organizational issues, ineffective programs, staff turnover, disconnect with the community, and loss of funding as a result.  And what are the options for well-run organizations to take an occasional fresh look at their organizational dynamics and leadership?

It was recognizing these issues that led me to create several online assessment tools that provide the data nonprofits need to get the overall view of their organization and start recognizing the needed changes to make.  By limiting travel and time of on-site interviews we reduce the cost and still provide a needed summary analysis to help an organization: 1. understand the stage in their life-cycle, 2. examine Staff-CEO-Board relationships, 3. measure their fundraising effectiveness.  

By developing anonymous surveys administered online, I have been able to assist a number of organizations of various age, size and budget.  The survey results are graphed for ease of understanding, and a brief, interpretive assessment is provided of potential action steps for further considerations.  The next steps are up to your organization’s leadership and funding capabilities.  You may decide to engage me or other advisor to help you move forward.  In any case, you will have this very important data with which to help change your organization for the better.

I invite you to take a few moments to examine my website and my background, and the four levels of low-cost assessment analysis tools I offer at  Whether you decide to engage my services beyond the surveys is completely up to you.  I am available to you to discuss how these can help your organization and help you lead quality change.
Serving together,

James K. Lewis, m.a., ccnl, cfre®

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Road to Better Health March 12, 2014

Dear Ministry Leader,
As you focus on God's plan and priorities for your life, have you considered how to protect your mind and body so that you can stay happy, healthy and remain in the ministry you love?

Ecclesiastes 12:6 calls the human brain the “Golden Bowl” and instructs us to serve God before it’s “broken.”

Recently the leader of a national ministry (who also teaches at a nearby Christian university) was terminated from both jobs due to poor judgement and mental confusion caused by "sudden" dementia. He and his wife are heartbroken because they intended to stay in ministry together for another 5-10 years. With what we know about neuroscience it’s very likely this devastation was avoidable and certainly postponable if together they had make diet and lifestyle changes at least 10 years before the disease was actually noticed.

FACT: Dementia actually starts developing during our 30s and 40s.

Accelerated by inflammatory diets, toxins, trauma, unhealthy lifestyle choices, un-managed stress and genetic factors—unhealthy brains become progressively diminished by Dementia. Just as concerning, however, are projections that the number of people with Alzheimer's will triple in the next few decades.
The Narramore Institute appreciates your ministry and cares deeply about your health, your happiness and your longevity of service. That’s why I created the Road to Better Health 2014 luncheon for RM leaders on March 12th in Pasadena.

You’re going to love this event because the content is so relevant:

I’ve invited Christian psychologist and author Dr. Earl Henslin (“Brain on Joy”) to share the latest and best ways to deal with depression, anger and other damaging emotions. A friend and mentor to many Christian leaders, Earl is passionate about harmonizing the brain with the soul.

Then, I’ll be discussing the myriad of health benefits that occur when you lower chronic inflammation. In fact, you learn the secret to reducing your risk for sudden heart attack death by up to 90%.
FACT: Every 34 seconds an American has a coronary event.
1/3 to 1/2 of heart attacks occur in persons with "normal" cholesterol.

Our last speaker is veteran Rescue Mission executive Rev. Jim Lewis. Whether it’s waking up in the middle of the night wondering how to meet this week’s bills, a concern about the welfare of a troubled staff member or a family concern, Jim will share some invaluable insights on managing daily stress and avoiding derailment.

I know how hard you work and the sacrifices you make every day to save others. So please join us on March 12, 2014 for a wonderful time of fellowship, renewal, to hear Christian speakers while enjoying a healthy and delicious lunch.

See you in beautiful Pasadena!
Kevin Narramore, Ph.D.
Narramore Institute, 844 Colorado Blvd. Suite 202 Los Angeles, California 90041 949-874-8000

Please CLICK HERE to register because space is limited. 

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Assessing Proper Board Oversight Limits Culpability

This article by Eugene Fram, author of "Policy vs. Paper Clips" is a good overview of critical board roles in providing due diligence. Too many nonprofit boards don’t realize their culpability for CEO performance. Appropriate oversight will provide for proper monitoring and fully understanding organizational issues.

The board must recognize their responsibility as an independent arbiter of facts, without prejudice. It may be that the board's monitoring of the CEO is minimal or non-existent, which puts a level of onus on the board for an escalating issue. Sitting down with the CEO to gain insight and discover what support he or she needs should be the first step when any issue is brought to the board's attention.

Your board and your community (which you represent) are too deeply invested to allow for a lack of proper oversight sidelining your CEO – and potentially your organization’s mission and vision. Remember, your role with the CEO is a partnership!

As a nonprofit consultant, I'm particularly cognizant of the issues raised by this article. I've heard that among the membership of just one national nonprofit association, in the last year there have been about 12 member organizations that have gone through tumultuous leadership shifts, with this being the primary issue.

While the board must step in when appropriate, there must be policy and procedure in place that is closely followed. Only when serious ethical or fiduciary malfeasance is found should a board step in directly.

Developing, protecting, and reconciling the relationship with their sole employee, the CEO, is their primary job.

In light of these concerns, one of the first assessments I recommend is a board survey to highlight any governance and policy issues or disconnect with the CEO. In a majority of my cases so far there have been indicators of a need for board/CEO training in monitoring and policy creation. Every effort at deepening the relationship and trust with your CEO will pay dividends.