In a previous blog, Board Basics, I mentioned the following: “An active and involved board of directors is the most critically important commodity to the success of a non-profit organization. It is the Board’s responsibility to ensure that the organization keeps the promises outlined in the agency’s mission and for assuring that the agency is accountable for acting within the laws governing the operations of non-profit corporations. Basically, a Board of Directors can make or break an organization.”
This was more about how important a board IS. Here I talk about what a board DOES. It is imperative that every organization have clearly defined responsibilities that are shared with each board member at the beginning and during his/her term. A dangerous habit many organizations get into is failing to share this information until a time of conflict.
A good method of practice is to have each board member sign a member agreement. Many organizations offer free sample board member agreements. A simple internet search will help you find a wide variety of these documents and select the one that is the most relevant to your organization.
In addition to any specific duties as assigned by an institution's charter, there are many areas where Board members are often called upon to become involved. What follows is an attempt to present broad guidelines for board members, to be refined and defined by the individual non-profit.
1) Be active in the achievement of the organization’s mission and goals.
2) Attend a specified percentage of board and committee (if applicable) meetings.
2) Support the chief administrative officer by allowing them the latitude to operate the institution and pursue its mission without undue interference.
3) Board members should avoid becoming involved with personnel issues other than the hiring or dismissal of the chief administrative officer.
4) Be informed and help influence the creation of the institution's mission and policies.
5) Prepare for meetings by reading and researching in advance agenda, policy issues or related issues.
6) Refrain from making special requests of the staff especially without consulting the chief administrative officer.
7) Make a personal financial commitment commensurate with one's means.
8) Assist in keeping the board viable by making suggestions and nominations for new members.
9) Actively participate in 1 or more fundraising activities.
11) Provide financial oversight.
12) Ensure integrity both legally and ethically.
I can’t stress enough the importance of defining roles and responsibilities for each board member. In my experience, the most challenging thing a staff member or volunteer experiences in their non-profit career is a board that hasn’t taken the time to map out its goals and role in achieving them. This creates hurdles that are unnecessary and wastes valuable time and other resources that could otherwise be utilized to help the organization further its mission.