Frequently Asked Questions About Being On The Board

(The terms “Trustee” and “Board Member” are used interchangeably in this document.)

What is the Board of Trustees?

The Canadian Unitarian Council is a democratic body that exists so that current and emerging Unitarian, Universalist, Unitarian Universalist and Universalist Unitarian (UU) religious communities (“Canadian UU Communities”) have the resources and recognition they need in order to thrive spiritually, socially and economically.

The CUC Board of Trustees is accountable to its voting members, as the legal owners of the CUC, for governing the organization between Council meetings in the Council’s best interest.

The Board interprets its accountability to mean that it must govern the work of CUC staff (through the CUC Executive Director) in the best interests of all current and potential future members through the setting and monitoring of appropriate Board policies.

Furthermore, the Board believes that its interpretation of its accountability requires recognition of related UU communities who comprise the wider “moral” owners of the CUC, and regularly seeks input from other bodies and persons that have a particular interest in its Ends.

The Board has adopted the Carver model of policy governance, which means that the Board is focused on “Ends” of the organization rather than the Means of achieving those Ends. In practice, this translates into the Board approaching its task with a style that emphasizes outward vision rather than internal focus; encouragement of diversity in its viewpoints; strategic leadership more than administrative detail; clear distinction of Board, staff, and volunteer/committee roles; planning for the future; and pro activity rather than reactivity.

The Board sets policy and vision through formally articulated Ends. The Means by which those Ends are achieved become the responsibility of the Executive Director, who, in turn, utilizes program, administrative and contract staff, and volunteers to perform the work.

In this spirit, the Board:

  1. Focuses chiefly on intended long-term impacts (“Ends”), rather than the programmatic “Means” of attaining those Ends.
  2. Directs, controls and inspires the organization through policies that reflect the organization’s broadest values and perspectives, and appropriate policy monitoring.
  3. Creates written governing policies that, at the broadest level address Ends, Governance Processes, Executive Director Limitations and Board-Executive Director Relationship.
  4. Enforces upon itself and its members whatever consistent behaviour is needed to govern with excellence. This applies to matters such as attendance, policy making principles, respect of clarified roles, speaking with one voice, and self-policing of any tendency to stray from governance adopted in board policies.
  5. Monitors and regularly discusses the board’s own process and performance, and insures the continuity of its governance capability by retraining and redevelopment. The Board will be responsible for Board performance.
  6. Is an initiator of policy.

Who is on the Board?

The Board consists of 8 voting members: 2 members from each of the 4 regions, which are:

  • British Columbia – Vancouver Island, Interior and Mainland
  • Western – Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Thunder Bay
  • Central – Guelph, Hamilton, London, Sarnia-Port Huron, Olinda, St. Catharine’s, Waterloo, Elora-Fergus, Windsor, Greater Toronto, Peterborough and Durham
  • Eastern – Kingston, Ottawa, Quebec and Atlantic Canada

… plus the Executive Director and Past President, who are present in a non voting capacity during Board meetings and on-line discussions.

A Youth Observer (“YOB”), elected by the youth, and a ministerial representative, appointed by the Unitarian Universalist Ministers of Canada (UUMOC), participate as Official Observers.

Who are the Official Observers?

Official Observers are those persons recognized by the Board as representing a particular group within the council, such as the Youth Observer, or as representing another organization, affiliate or group invited to the meeting by the Board, such as the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) or the UU Ministers of Canada (UUMOC).

When the Official Observer is to participate on a regular basis at all Board meetings, the Board expects that the selection of the representative will be through a democratic process or appointment. The Board reserves the right to determine which organizations will be granted official observer status.

What is involved with being a Trustee?

Trustees are elected for 3-year terms. You may be nominated for a second contiguous term, for a maximum of 2 terms, totaling 6 years.

In addition to the function of the Board described above, Board members keep in contact with presidents of congregations and ministers in their respective regions. Contact is made before and after each board meeting to invite input regarding policy and long range planning.

Board members also send out news from Board meetings to “their” presidents, ministers and newsletter editors. Occasionally, trustees may expect to speak at Sunday services, do presentations, or meet with congregations in their regions to address specific issues or areas of concern.

In addition to the executive roles of President, Vice-President, Treasurer and Secretary, there are a number of functional portfolios various trustees may be asked to perform, depending on interest and expertise.

These include:

  • The Social Responsibility (SR) Liaison
    • The link between the CUC’s Social Responsibility Monitoring Groups and the Board.
  • The Board’s Communications Liaison 
    • Participates with staff in developing, maintaining, and evaluating a CUC communications strategy that addresses all the three levels of communication involving the Board: with staff, the membership and outside the organization.
  • Policy Advisory Committee
    • Assists the Board by drafting policy and maintaining policy monitoring schedules.
  • The Board’s Technology Advisor:
    • Helps new and less technically-comfortable Board Members learn and use the set of electronic communications tools adopted by the CUC.
  • The Knight Award Liaison 
    • Acts as the liaison between the former recipients for the award (who collectively choose future recipients) and the Board. Traditionally, the liaison has been asked to emcee the Knight Award Dinner at the Annual Conference.

In selecting Board nominees, the Nominating Committee aims to match the skillsets and interests of nominees with the needs of the Board over both the short and long term.

How much time can I expect to commit to this work?

The time commitment in being a board member is significant – the Board holds 3 face-to-face Board meetings a year: in September and in the spring for 4 days, in May prior to the Annual Conference and Meeting for 3 days. In addition, Board members participate in monthly and occasional ad hoc teleconferences as necessary.

To be effective, Board members need frequent access to computers and high speed Internet, and should have a reasonable comfort level in using this technology. Board members may spend upwards of 4-6 hours a week on e-mail, depending on their level of involvement, and are expected to respond in timely fashion on Board issues.

Board members attend the Annual Conference and Meeting and Regional Fall Gatherings (RFGs) in their region and are expected to lead a session on national issues.

Board members are also expected to attend significant congregational events (e.g., ordinations, installations) in their region.

The Board has various committees and task forces that trustees should expect to become involved in as well as specific portfolios (described above). Levels of activity usually peak before Board meetings and the ACM, so a trustee may expect to spend increased time on Board issues during these periods.

Within 2 or 3 years of coming on to the Board, trustees should be prepared to assume increased responsibility or a leadership role, such as taking the initiative for a project, or taking on an executive role.

What do Board meetings involve?

The first few Board meetings for a new Board member will involve a steep learning curve. Board nominees are invited to attend the May Board meeting prior to the Annual Meeting at which they may be elected. Don’t be afraid to ask questions!

Board meetings and teleconferences address all aspects of policy monitoring and development covered by the Carver Model. A typical agenda includes the following sections:

  1. Introductory Items
  2. Required Approvals
  3. E.D. Notifications
  4. Policy Monitoring
  5. Policy Compliance
  6. Policy Development
  7. Other Business

There is usually a period of intense activity leading up to Board meetings as reports are prepared, sent out, and assimilated before meetings.

Is this work for me?  How do I find out if I’m a good fit, and if the board is where I want to focus my energies?

Some questions that might help you discern if this is a role you want to take on might include:

  • Am I, at some point, prepared to step up to a leadership role on a national level?
  • Do I have the capacity to think broadly, in terms of visioning and long range planning?
  • Can I focus on the Ends instead of the Means of achieving goals?
  • Am I a collaborative team player, and able to work closely in physical proximity with a group during short periods several times a year?
  • Can I work independently and effectively the rest of the time, with connections over the internet?
  • If I currently have heavy responsibilities in my home congregation, am I able to step back and plan for someone else to assume these obligations for the next few years?
  • How will this fit into my personal life? Will my significant others understand that this will involve a considerable commitment on my part?
  • Can I take on this role for the next 3 years, knowing that this will involve a significant time commitment? Am I able to say no, if I discover this is not a good fit?
  • What skills and gifts will I bring to the work of the Board? What are my strengths and what will I be able to contribute?
  • What do I hope to take away from the experience of being on the CUC Board?
  • Am I ready to be engaged and challenged spiritually, emotionally and intellectually?
  • If I am unable to do this work at this time, would this be a possibility at another time? Are there other areas of CUC work that I would prefer to be involved in?

How do I find out more information?

A formal orientation process will take place, normally just prior to, or just following, the Annual Meeting in May at which Board members are elected. Nominees are encouraged to seek out past and current Board members to ask questions and discuss the experience of being a trustee.

  • Talk to the representative of the Nominating Committee in your region;
  • Talk to the current Board member in your region;
  • Talk to other past and current Board members:
  • Consider becoming involved with the work of a CUC task force or committee;
  • Surf the governance sections of the CUC website;
  • All CUC Board members and staff can be contacted at

Comments from past and current Board members:

“Be prepared to work hard and fall in love with this work.”

“Don’t hesitate to ask questions and have patience – getting to know people and issues takes time.”

“It’s exciting being part of a national body, working to affirm and expand our commitment to our faith.”

“There’s enormous satisfaction and feelings of accomplishment, working in camaraderie with other UUs and a committed, diligent Board of Trustees.”

“There is no question that serving on the CUC Board requires a significant commitment of time. What I found was that with a commitment of heart to our faith, the work was not tiresome or overwhelming. My seven years on the Board has been the most rewarding experience of my professional life. The chance to work together with good people from across Canada, people who feel just as strongly about Unitarianism as I do was a reward in itself. I won’t say there were never disagreements about policy or business, there were tough moments now and then. The Board room was permeated with a feeling of good will that kept us on track for finding good solutions in a spirit of camaraderie. In seven years I probably worked with 25 different Board Members, Youth Observers and Staff members, for the Board’s composition changes each year. Every Board was different, but there was always that sense of good will that allowed laughter and friendship to lighten the load.”

“To become a member of the CUC Board is to be offered a remarkable opportunity, both for service to our movement, and for a deeply enriching and inspiring personal experience.”

“An opportunity to give back a little for having been given so much from the experience of being a UU.”

“I’ll never be the same again!”