Over the years, many board members have approached us saying, somewhat sheepishly:
I have been on the board for a while now, and I am still not sure what it is I should be doing.
Or, perhaps even worse:
As a board member, I feel like I am not really doing anything.
Board members of nonprofit organizations have distinct responsibilities. Their role is critical.
Nonprofit Board Members: 9 Key Responsibilities
1. Determine the Mission of the Organization.
Board members should take the lead in setting, and if needed, redefining the mission of the organization. When its original goal of eliminating polio was achieved, the March of Dimes faced a choice: to either discontinue operations or to rededicate itself to a new vision. In the 1960’s they declared a new and much-needed mission dedicating the organization to the prevention of birth defects.
2. Hire, Evaluate, and Terminate the CEO.
Some believe that the most important decision a board will make is hiring a new CEO. When a vacancy occurs board members should conduct a thorough search—hiring a search firm if needed. Additionally, board members must ensure that the CEO is evaluated annually by a delegation of the board.
It is generally best to assemble a team, led by the board chair, to conduct the evaluation. The goal is to ensure that the CEO is receiving feedback from the entire board. And, if needed, the board needs to step forward to terminate the CEO in the event of inability to perform for whatever reason.
3. Support the CEO.
It is true that being a CEO is a lonely job. Board members often under estimate how important it is for CEOs to receive their general support and positive feedback. CEOs almost always hear when things go wrong. Board members can contribute significantly to CEO longevity by ensuring that CEOs know when they have done a good job.
4. Create and Implement a Strategic Plan.
As with the mission, board members are key to the creation of a strategic plan. Board members should begin the process of strategic planning a year before a new plan is needed. Many organizations are now writing a portion of the strategic plan that is dedicated solely to the work of the board.
All board members should be part of the organization’s fundraising program. With proper training and support, each board member can find their place on the organization’s fundraising team. Additionally, each board member should consider the organization one of his or her top philanthropic priorities. The reason for this is simple: if board members don’t give generously to the organization, neither will donors.
6. Manage Resources Effectively.
There are numerous stories of boards of all types not taking their fiduciary responsibilities seriously enough. One never needs to say more than Enron. The board needs to ensure that annual budgets, as well as capital projects, endowed funds, and long term fiscal decision-making are sound.
7. Be a Public Advocate.
Most board members are discouraged about how little the community understands regarding the work of their beloved nonprofits. Well, you are the key to fixing that problem.
If you’re passionate enough to serve on the board of an organization, share that passion with others by talking about the organization at your next dinner party, over coffee with a friend, or at work. You’ll be surprised how frequently other people share your passion and ask about how they can get involved or provide support.
8. Do NOT Engage in Personnel Matters.
Just a little reminder here that the board supervises the CEO, and the CEO supervises everyone else.
It can be tempting at times to try to resolve a personnel matter, particularly if the staff contacts the board member directly. Assuming the board has confidence in the CEO, this is always a mistake. If the board doesn’t have confidence in the CEO, then see number #2 above.
9. Assess Your Own Performance.
On an annual basis the board should assess its own performance. Most boards utilize surveys with a limited number of questions that focus on board performance, board culture, and individual board member satisfaction.
So, for all you board members out there wondering what you should be doing, you have your work cut out for you.
Now, in partnership with your CEO, get out there and make this a better world! Perhaps like the March of Dimes, one day you can declare “Mission Accomplished!”