YWAM Legal Boards
Wherever YWAM exists we try to create a legal entity which will enable us to function in an open, transparent manner and comply with the laws of that land. There are a few nations in the world where YWAM cannot function openly and transparently, but in most nations we are able to create legal entities which fulfill our obligations to government and the public for operational accountability.
Laws and statutes that apply to non-profitable or charitable organisations have been created for the purpose of public accountability and that is a worthy objective. So it is not only in our best interest but also a very positive step for us to create a legal entity including a Board to represent YWAM. Requirements and restrictions for Board members will vary from nation to nation, but most do allow any citizen who does not have a criminal record to serve on a Board. Some nations exclude foreign residents but many nations don’t. In the process of setting up a Board it is important that a YWAM leader should investigate (usually through the services of a sympathetic lawyer) the necessary qualifications and restrictions for Board membership. Once a YWAM leader knows those details then he or she can embark on a prayerful process of choosing Board members. Remember that in the eyes of the law, the Board is YWAM. There is only one exception to that general statement. Many countries allow an entity like YWAM to register as a company with membership. This arrangement can be ideal in that all long-term YWAMers within a nation can be registered as members of a company and they in turn appoint Board members to act as an executive on their behalf. Such a legal arrangement is suitable to YWAM because the board members are accountable to the YWAM members. It also means that the protection of YWAM’s name and the ownership of its assets are ultimately with all of the members not just a few appointed Board members. Again the laws of each particular state or province will need to be investigated to determine whether that is possible. Whether Board members are appointed initially by a YWAM leader or (appointed or elected) by an established membership, a Board member should be chosen prayerfully and carefully.
So what are we looking for in a Board member?
We have recommended that YWAM Boards be comprised of about one-third YWAM leaders from the local and national work being represented, about one-third being chosen from YWAM leaders outside that nation or state, and about one-third of its members being people who are not full-time YWAMers. The reason for this recommendation is that we believe firmly that responsibility and authority should go together. The people who are responsible for the well-being and effectiveness of YWAM are the full-time workers. We don’t believe it is right to put all the authority for YWAM in the hands of people who are not immersed in it day in and day out. In the early stages of establishing YWAM, the Board is likely to be small; it can begin with just the person who is pioneering the work and two or three others chosen from International YWAM and from amongst local Christians. However, as the Board expands the YWAMers from the nation or state represented should be chosen from those who carry the main responsibility and exhibit a long term commitment. Those chosen from YWAM outside that nation or state should be chosen on the basis that they will get thoroughly involved in Board meetings and contribute another perspective on the Board. If any members are non-active, not attending any meetings, or very few, it devalues the entire board. When choosing non-YWAM people to sit on the Board, we sometimes think we should find people who have wealth and influence. While that could be good, the most important thing is that they should understand YWAM, its vision and values and have a deep heart connection to the Mission. If that is your first criterion you will find that the Board works together in harmony more easily. Those non-YWAM Board members should be chosen for their expertise and wisdom. For example, it is good to have someone on the Board who understands the legal environment well. It is also good to have someone who is skilled in financial matters and another one or two with property expertise and someone who is widely respected in the body of Christ.
It is advisable to begin to form a Board slowly and let the number of members grow as the YWAM work grows. It is much more difficult to build good unity when you start with a large number. Ideally a Board should be formed with just three or four members and then others added when the initial group is well bonded together and operating in unity.
The legal environment in most countries requires Board members to rotate off the Board at regular intervals. This is a good idea which should not be bypassed. If Board members need to retire from the Board every three or four years and then be re-elected if they want to stand again, it offers the opportunity for them to move on or for the rest of the Board to decide to not reappoint that member. Every Board needs new blood from time to time. So, the process of people stepping down and new people coming on should be made as painless and positive as possible.
Sometimes we can be confused about who has ultimate authority over YWAM, the Board or full-time YWAM leadership. The answer is both. When looking at an organisation from the perspective of government, the Board has final authority and responsibility and we must recognise this fact and be sure that the Board functions in that way.
The board of YWAM in any given location will have certain statutory responsibilities. Some of these are:
Assure that the YWAM leaders are fulfilling legal responsibilities. For example,
- That the finances are in compliance with best practices; this is usually determined by an annual audit done by a recognized professional accounting firm.
- That good health and safety practices are observed.
- That staff and students comply with visa and immigration laws.
- That YWAM assets, especially property, are stewarded well.
When senior leadership needs to be appointed or serious disciplinary issues arise, or overall vision is being developed, these are all responsibilities of full-time leadership both nationally and internationally. Therefore, it is vital that the legal Board should function in a good spirit of unity and mutual service with International YWAM leadership. For example, if there is a need for a change in senior leadership, the legal Board should work in open communication and unity with international leadership of YWAM in that appointment process. As long as both groups are actively submitted to the Holy Spirit and listening to God, they will come to unity. Remove the Holy Spirit from that equation and unity will be difficult to maintain.
Internationally, YWAM asks every Board to agree to a licensing contract, which means that YWAM International owns the name and other intellectual property associated with Youth With A Mission. If a Board and/or the full-time work in the nation departs from YWAM values or vision significantly and does not respond to attempts to draw them back to the vision and values then YWAM International (that is represented legally by the original California corporation) has the right to refuse permission for that legal entity to call itself YWAM. (A brief personal testimony might help illustrate the principles I am addressing: Loren Cunningham and Reona Peterson (Joly) helped Marti and me set up a small Board in the autumn of 1971. We had business people on it and we had people in ministry. One of the Church of England ministers served as Chairman for the first seven or eight years, and we worked in wonderful harmony as YWAM grew.
During that time there weren’t many long-term full-time YWAMers in the country, but as that number grew we implemented the idea of membership and now we have up to a hundred long-term YWAMers, who are the members of YWAM in this country and meet annually to pray over the work, to examine its health and to meet with the Board. At that Annual General Meeting we elect new members and receive the resignation of those who are due to rotate off the Board; if they are standing for re-election we duly elect them unless there is good reason not to (and that has not yet occurred) Some decide not to stand for re-election and we thank them and honour them for their service.
We can now look back on more than forty years of harmonious and active Board participation in the work of YWAM. The Board has stayed engaged, has contributed in valuable advice, made important connections across the country and supported us with intercessory prayer, the value of which is impossible to calculate.
For many years I was the Chairman of the Board. Although I don’t think it is ideal for the Director to also be Chairman long-term, it can work for a while. Now we have another Director and a different Chairman. There comes a time when it is right even for the pioneer of the work to step down from chairing it and that process can be smoothed through a proactive mentoring of another full-time YWAM leader who has a gift for chairing meetings. As the father of the work here, I would imagine I would remain on the board for as long as I have positive contributions to make and that criterion will be evaluated by the Board and the membership. I hope that I will realise when that time has come before everyone else does, but if not they have the safety of both membership and Board being able to say it’s time for me not to be re-elected when my turn for resignation comes.
Our Board is set up so that each Board member serves for three years and then resigns and then can stand for re-election. So every three years I get the opportunity to re-evaluate whether or not my participation is still essential and positive. But it is a great joy to look back on so many years of effective Board activity without negative conflict.)
To summarise, in YWAM we don’t want Boards who consist of people who have other full-time responsibilities and yet take the final authority for the operational matters of Youth With A Mission. Neither do we want what is commonly known as “rubber stamp Boards”. We don’t want them to exist on paper but not be active nor take the responsibility seriously. Increasingly the laws in nations around the world will not allow for that because governments are holding charities and non-profits more accountable than ever before. But if we are careful and prayerful we can develop Boards that function well and make an entirely positive and constructive contribution to the work of YWAM within the nation and from that nation into the world.
Where the laws or general environment of a nation does not permit the existence of such a legal entity, the leader/s should do their best to provide, to whatever extent they can, the protections of an advisory board and members.