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Top 10 Responsibilities of Nonprofit Board Members

1. Define the organization’s mission and purpose. It is the Board’s responsibility to define and review the organization’s statement of mission and purpose, which lays out the organization’s goals, resources, and primary constituents served. Too often organizations move outside their core mission, chasing funding that may not be appropriate. The Board is in charge of keeping the organization on track. We encourage Board members to re-read the organization’s mission before each Board meeting so that they have clear understandings of what’s guiding their decisions.

2. Choose and evaluate the CEO and set compensation. Boards must reach consensus on the chief executive’s responsibilities and perform a thoughtful search to find the most qualified individual for the position. This includes helping to define job responsibilities, compensation, etc. Each organization will have different expectations and skill sets needed depending on the other members of management, where the organization is in its life cycle, the nature of the organization and its funding, etc.

3. Support the CEO. The Board should ensure that the CEO has the moral and professional support he or she needs to further the mission of the organization.

4. Perform Effective Planning. Boards must actively participate in an overall planning process on a regular basis, and assist in implementing and monitoring the plan’s goals. Planning should look at short-term and long-term, and should include “what if” scenarios, especially if your organization relies on government funding that could be tenuous.

5. Monitor and Strengthen Programs and Services. The Board’s responsibility is to determine which programs are consistent with the organization’s mission and monitor their effectiveness. For those programs which are not, the Board should consider if such programs should be transferred to another organization. Management should also continue to evaluate whether it is a buyer (looking to acquire another organization to strengthen/expand its footprint/offerings), a seller (looking to merge into another organization), or whether it will maintain the status quo.

6. Ensure Appropriate Levels of Financial Resources. One of the Board’s foremost responsibilities is to secure appropriate funding for the organization to carry-out its mission. Board members are required to help raise funds for the organization they govern. If you’re not able to, you may want to consider if you will be an effective Board member.

7. Maintain Proper Fiscal Oversight. The Board must assist in developing the annual budget and ensuring that proper financial controls are in place. The Board can only do this if it receives regular, adequate financial information. Once again, this includes “what if” modeling so that the agency is prepared if certain funding is not available.

8. Develop New Board Members. All Boards have a responsibility to identify potential new Board members, orient new members to the Board, and periodically and appropriately evaluate their own performance.

9. Ensure Legal and Ethical Integrity. Remember, Board members have three overriding duties; the duty of care, the duty of loyalty, and the duty of obedience. Board members are ultimately responsible for adherence to legal standards and ethical norms.

10. Enhance the Organization’s Public Standing. Board members need to be ambassadors for the agencies whose Boards they sit on. This includes the public sector (lobbying activities on behalf of the agencies) and the private sector (bringing on new Board members, raising money and support for the agency, integrating with constituents, etc.).

Download the full guide for Nonprofit Board Members

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Governance: It’s Not Rocket Science

At a recent board meeting with a new client, I found myself at the table with a number of brilliant and acclaimed scientists, some of whom had worked for NASA at different points in their careers. The board members’ individual accomplishments aside, this organization’s governance was abysmal.

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