What does it mean to be a Board Member?

While each leadership position entails its own responsibilities, there are several duties that every board member must complete, regardless of their position. As a whole, your nonprofit’s board should adhere to the following seven core responsibilities.

1) Board members should advance the mission of the organisation.

Your nonprofit’s most prominent advocates are its board members. These individuals are the face of your cause and should be expected to use their efforts and abilities to ethically promote the organisation’s core mission.

This responsibility will come naturally for your most enthusiastic board members. However, all directors should proactively promote their work, igniting that same passion in others. This pertains not only to their personal and professional networks but also to public relations. When speaking to the media on behalf of your nonprofit, they should paint your organisation in the best light possible.

Overall, spreading awareness for your mission will promote growth and empower your team to flourish in its work.

2) Board members have legal and fiduciary responsibilities.

There’s a lot at stake when it comes to managing a nonprofit. Every board of directors needs to understand internal policies and the legal implications of your organisation. Failure to do so can result in severe consequences, such as heavy fees.

It’s up to board members to understand laws that apply to your organisation. But, then, they must assure that the organisation adheres to those legal obligations.

For instance, all tax-related filings must be done entirely and on time. Failure to file the tax return three consecutive times can revoke tax-exempt status. Ensuring that it’s been filed is the responsibility of the treasurer and everyone who participates in fundraising operations.

Additionally, boards should be aware of the penalties caused by:

  • Overpaying staff or other individuals
  • Engaging in excessive lobbying or political activities
  • Making egregious bad bargains on behalf of the nonprofit

Board members also assume a fiduciary responsibility to the served population. This means acting in good faith and working for the benefit of those you help, never against it.

3) Board members should attend board meetings.

It should go without saying that board members should attend and contribute during meetings. After all, this is when they can share their insight, get creative, and have deep conversations about promoting a mission that has a special place in their hearts. Unfortunately, however, many board members fall short of expectations and become too lax with meetings.

Share the following suggestions to establish a much more collaborative (and much less chaotic) boardroom:

  • Review the agenda in advance. Everyone should understand all matters on the agenda heading into the meeting. Participation in discussions is a big part of why you choose someone for a role on the board. Fulfilling these duties is part of acting in good faith for any board member.

  • Adhere to the outlined rules of order. For instance, many organisations adopt Robert’s Rules of Order to maintain order in the boardroom. The rules of conduct during meetings are established for a reason and facilitate fruitful conversation. Observing the Rules of Order shows decorum and respect for the organisation.

To prevent any issues upfront, consider also implementing an attendance requirement, except for emergencies and other unavoidable situations. After all, members should have sufficient time to give to your organisation. Otherwise, they’re not fulfilling their primary duties.

4) Board members must hire and set compensation for the CEO or staff.

Hiring and overseeing the executive director and staff is one of the most critical board responsibilities as it has the most significant impact on the organisation’s growth and vitality. The executive director serves as the gateway between the nonprofit’s staff and board members.

This responsibility is typically assigned to a few board members, who oversee the hiring process. Here are the steps these individuals typically follow when overseeing the executive director:

  1. Assess the organisation’s needs. Determine your nonprofit’s current strengths and weaknesses. This information will serve well in guiding the selection process. The hiring committee will know exactly which skills and qualifications the next executive director should have.
  2. Oversee the selection process. Based on the organisational assessment, create a comprehensive job listing, and undergo your search for the most qualified prospects based on the qualifications you set forth. Next, conduct interviews and narrow down the list. Then, the ultimate decision, including compensation, is up to the entire board.
  3. Provide support and conduct an annual evaluation. After hiring the new executive director, your board should ensure they have the resources they need. Then, ensure the individual fulfills expectations by conducting an annual evaluation, assessing quantitative metrics (measurable data like fundraising goal completions) and qualitative metrics (soft skills like leadership and relationship-building abilities).

5) Board members are responsible for recruiting new members.

Your board members are the most knowledgeable on what skills and qualities are missing from the boardroom. Therefore, they’re highly qualified to locate the next best board members to fill those gaps by leveraging this insight.

Current board members should constantly look for passionate, qualified recruits who will bring additional knowledge, talent, and background experience to the table. Like selecting an executive director, your board is responsible for locating qualified prospects, conducting interviews, and selecting the most qualified candidates.

Not only should they participate in recruitment, but current board members should also assist in onboarding new directors. For those who are retiring from their positions, this means training their successors. As for those returning for another term, this means proactively getting to know new members, ensuring they have access to the board platform, and simply providing a friendly face in the boardroom.

6) Board members should find digital tools to improve communication.

As part of the board’s primary responsibilities, they should make the most of their resources and take the necessary steps to ensure proper governance.

7) Board members should serve on at least one committee.

Most of the board’s work is completed in committees. There simply isn’t enough time for the entire board to have lengthy conversations and research specific issues in depth. Because of this, every board member should serve on a committee, effectively steering the organisation toward its goals.
Individuals should be assigned to committees based on experience, skills, and interests. For instance, a board member who has a background in accounting would be an excellent fit for the finance committee.

Like individual board members, each committee should receive a written document covering their responsibilities, guidelines, and goals. The entire board’s responsibility is to assess each committee’s success and adjust accordingly regularly.

Wrapping Up

Enthusiastic board members can breathe new life into any organisation. But that’s only if they first fulfill their primary responsibilities. As a leader of your nonprofit’s board, it’s up to you to ensure your fellow board members understand what they should (and shouldn’t) be doing. This way, they can leverage their skills and direct their energy into advancing your organisation’s mission in a sound, legal, and ethical manner.

A board of directors does not exist solely to fulfill legal duties, but rather, they contribute to the organisation’s culture, strategic focus, and financial sustainability. Therefore, a well-functioning board that adheres to its responsibilities is essential to the health and sustainability of any nonprofit.

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