How many board members should an organization have? It seems like an easy enough question, but when discussing a nonprofit board of directors one thing becomes clear, there is no one size fits all model for governance. At last Fridays Emerging Leaders Network Lunch, we dove into the topic “Nonprofit Board of Directors: Who are they?” And while we found that most answers to the questions raised didn’t have a clear cut answer, there are still some things everyone should know about the board of director.
One of the most important things to understand about any board of directors is that directors are required to carry out their duties and responsibilities under certain standards of care and attention. Board Source describes the three legal standards that have been established as:
- Duty of Care–Board members should use the same level of care that an ordinarily prudent person would exercise in a like position under similar circumstances.
- Duty of Loyalty–Board members can never use information obtained as a member for personal gain, but must act in the best interests of the organization.
- Duty of Obedience–Board members are required to be faithful to the organization’s mission, and are not permitted to act in a way that is inconsistent with the central goals of the organization.
Beyond these three legal standards, it’s generally believed that board members have 10 basic responsibilities:
- To create the mission statement of the organization, reviewing it on occasion, and fully supporting the mission.
- To serve as the hiring committee for the executive director.
- To make certain that executive directors have moral and professional support to further the goals of the organization, and they should review his/her performance.
- To participate in organizational planning with organization’s staff and help to implement the organization’s goals.
- To fundraise for the organization.
- To assist with budget planning and make sure that the organization has good financial controls in place.
- To monitor the programs and services offered by the organization to ensure that they align with the organization’s mission.
- To improve the organizations public standing by clearly articulating the organization’s mission, accomplishments and goals to the public and garner support from key community members.
- To maintain accountability by ensuring legal and ethical integrity are met.
- To regularly assess its performance.
The specific roles and responsibilities of board members will vary from organization to organization. The good news is that there are resources out there to help you navigate these waters. Board Source has a wealth of knowledge on nonprofits boards; the Nonprofit Consultant Blog also has some good tips and articles. More locally, I recommend checking out MAP for Nonprofits and the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits' “Principles & Practices for Nonprofit Excellence.”
What has been your experience working with your nonprofit board of directors? How does your board and organization function as a unit? If you’re on a board, what’s been your experience with the organization, especially in regards to responsibilities and expectations?