In April we reached out to our clients and asked them if they would be interested in hosting a Foundant Field Trip. This field trip was designed to help us better understand the way in which a foundation operates. Here at Foundant, we felt that this would be a way to better serve our clients. If we understand their entire job, we’ll be better at enabling them in using our software. The Oldham Little Church Foundation kindly extended an offer to let us visit them for one of their quarterly board meetings. I was given the opportunity to travel to Houston, Texas on the first Foundant Field Trip.
As a CSM (Client Success Manager) I interact with clients every day. I help them with their Foundant Grant Lifecycle Manager (GLM) software. From best practices to basic troubleshooting, my goal is to make their lives easier and their workflow more efficient. What I don’t see is the “other” portion of their job title. What do they truly do on a daily basis? I know that they are not in the software all day long, every single day. If we here at Foundant understand our clients’ jobs better, we as a company will be better at providing them with the services they need. With that goal in mind, this Field Trip to the Oldham Little Church Foundation was an enlightening event.
I’ll be the first to admit that I had no idea what a “Board Meeting” entailed. This was a giant question mark in my mind. I hear my clients refer to this elusive event all the time. I sense the urgency in their voices when they are trying to prepare reports and print packets in an effort to organize these events. Yet, up until now, I had no idea what happened at these meetings. So let me share my experience.
I arrived at the Oldham Little Church Foundation offices the afternoon prior to their board meeting. I was greeted by Paul Sanders who is the President/CEO of the foundation. Paul is extremely personable and right away he began to share with me the history of the foundation. He pulled out a picture of the board members and as he pointed to each of them, he explained who they were and what their association with the Foundation was. The photograph was very professional, each member dressed finely with slight smiles on their faces. Although a very nice picture, I didn’t get a sense of their personalities from it. All I knew at this point was that they were all involved in the mission of this foundation.
Paul also provided me the outline for the meeting that was to occur the next day. Lisa Diehl, the Grant Coordinator and Paul had planned everything. They booked the venue, prepared the board books, and communicated the date and time with the board. There is an astronomical amount of preparation required to get more than a dozen, very busy, individuals in one place at one time and then make the meeting flow smoothly. I was extremely excited to observe this meeting and now that I had a basic understanding of the Oldham Little Church Foundation, its members, and the plan for tomorrow, I was really quite anxious.
Bright and early the next morning Paul arrived to pick me up from my hotel. We arrived at Houston Baptist University and proceeded into the Morris Cultural Arts Center. The room was prepped and the staff was setting up the projection screen. It was a very comfortable setting and I have to admit that I like the feel of southern hospitality. It is just comfortable! Lisa set out all of the board books and made sure the projector was working correctly. Coffee, fruit, and pastries were brought in and the meeting was officially ready to kick off.
The board began to arrive. One by one they all walked in and said hello to everyone, myself included. The team was assembling and my excitement for this event continued to grow. Everyone settled in and Reverend Garry Blackmon opened with a word of prayer. With that, they began! They first reviewed their investments and actually brought in one of their advisor companies to present to them. These advisors gave a thorough slideshow which brought everyone up to speed on where their real estate investments stood. Oldham is tied to Houston and Houston is growing, but diversifying the assets of the foundation is crucial. If the foundation is to continue to thrive, investments are essential. Communicating these investments amongst all members is also critical. Everyone has to be informed and in agreement with the direction they are moving.
Upon completion of this portion of the meeting, they began to review their grants. Lisa and Paul led this portion. Lisa spoke about the GLM software and made mention of the GLM updates which have drastically improved her workflow. The board was ecstatic with the eReport map and the ability to view the organizations that they had funded. Lisa had just completed manually entering their historical grants into the system (12 lateral filing cabinets and over 2000 paper applications) which really has moved them to being entirely paperless. This was a huge feat which took her two and a half years!
Now, I thought that in this portion of the meeting the board would review a bunch of grants and collectively they would make their decisions, but this had already been completed by the Grants Committee. The board members had completed their reviews using the Foundant GLM software. They had approved 34 grants and sent out $290K in awards. So far for the year, they had already awarded $811K. In my mind, I had this image of everyone hashing it out around a table and deciding who they wanted to approve or deny, but this didn’t happen here. The Grants Committee was responsible for completing this prior to the meeting. For this meeting, Lisa and Paul shared a couple of projects they were really excited about and that truly made an impact on them. One of the projects was a paper application from a very small church in Tennessee that just wanted indoor plumbing. The emphasis on this portion of the meeting was on the impact they are making.
Next up was the financial review which was led by their accountants. Here they went over their budget and where they stood both so far this year and from years past. They asked themselves if they were “Going away?” and talked about methods they could employ to keep the foundation running. The year had been a loss so far and they talked about how they could catch up. Since they have to give away 5%, this is a reality. Oil, gas, real estate and other investments are the key to keeping the income flowing in, but these markets fluctuate and, in turn, affect Oldham one way or the other.
The executive session occurred next and I had to step out of the room, but it was explained to me that they were deciding on whether to extend the contract of their staff accountant. This was brief, we walked back in and they congratulated her and let her know she could stick around!
At the end of the meeting everyone thanked one another and they came up with a few items that they would continue to be diligent and work on amongst their committees. I have to say that I did not envision this meeting running as it did. The reason it flowed so well is that there are several committees that work on all of the issues over the course of the year. The Executive Committee, Investment Committee, Grant Committee, Employee Benefits Committee, Audit Committee, and Nominating Committee meet when is necessary and review issues at hand. These committees are made up of various members of the board and some of these committees Lisa and Paul are included in as well. The committees communicate well amongst themselves and then communicate their findings and results to the rest of the team. This allows for a very, very informative and constructive board meeting. The meeting then flows quite well because everyone is on the same page. It is Paul and Lisa’s job to combine all of this information into one board meeting, but the bulk of the work is done behind the scenes by each one of these committees. This is all driven by the humble, calculated, well communicated, even tempered, passionate, forward thinking, compassionate, and kind members of this team. They are servants and they are called to carry on the vision of Mr. Morris Oldham who began the Oldham Little Church Foundation in 1949.
At around noon, in between the grant review and the financial review, we all stepped out of the room and walked over to the Dunham Bible Museum where we strolled through the wonderful exhibit. It was a time for everyone to chat and it gave each member a slight break from the meeting. We all returned to a fantastic lunch and while we were all sitting down and eating, Stewart Morris Sr. walked in and brought with him a young college student. Stewart was the last person to come into the room and he sat down with his plate of food and then introduced the young lady. He then asked her to tell her story. Katy Jo worked for Stewart on his ranch. She mucked stalls and took care of the horses. Stewart had asked her one day where she was going to college and what she was studying. She informed him that she was studying at the local community college, but had started out studying art at Houston Baptist. After a year it was just too expensive so she came back home to attend the community college. Stewart then asked her if she could meet him at HBU on Memorial Day. She agreed and on Memorial Day she and her parents drove all the way to Houston to meet Stewart and the head of the art department. They reviewed her portfolio and saw her potential and upon that Stewart asked her if she would like to attend HBU once again. Katy Jo is now attending HBU on a full scholarship. Now Stewart didn’t just give her the scholarship, he helped her find and apply to the correct programs so that she could obtain the scholarship dollars on her own. Stewart is 96 and at his core he is a servant. This single event truly made a huge impact on me. It wasn’t related to Oldham’s mission, but it did demonstrate the heart of these board members. They want to serve and are fortunate to do so, and they do it with their whole heart. Servanthood is at their core and they don’t let conflicts or strong personalities get in the way of that.
“You can have your facts and forecasts, but the reality is that the world still turns on personalities” - Stewart Morris Sr.
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