One of the fundamental challenges that far too many board members and boards have is that they don’t have a strong understanding of their roles and responsibilities.
It sounds basic, but one of the fundamental challenges that far too many board members and boards have is that they don’t have a strong understanding of their roles and responsibilities.
According to Leading with Intent 2017, boards, in general, are doing well with more fundamental board responsibilities — understanding the organization’s mission and providing financial oversight. Conversely, they struggle most with external responsibilities, including fundraising, advocacy, and community-building and outreach. This lack of understanding of what is — and is not — a part of the board’s essential roles can lead to a whole host of dysfunctions, such as micromanagement, rogue decision-making, lack of engagement, and more.
Since it’s impossible to do a job well if you don’t know what the job is, all boards must take the time to ensure that every board member fully understands what’s expected and needed of him or her, and then hold all members accountable when they get off track.
This starts with an understanding of the fundamental legal duties of each individual board member, which include:
- Duty of Care — Each board member has a legal responsibility to participate actively in making decisions on behalf of the organization and to exercise his or her best judgment while doing so.
- Duty of Loyalty — Each board member must put the interests of the organization before their personal and professional interests when acting on behalf of the organization in a decision-making capacity. The organization’s needs come first.
- Duty of Obedience — Board members bear the legal responsibility of ensuring that the organization complies with the applicable federal, state, and local laws and adheres to its mission.
But that’s just the starting point, as boards have responsibilities that go far beyond these three legal duties. BoardSource formalized the core roles and responsibilities of board members and boards in the book widely recognized as the definitive word on the role of a nonprofit board, Ten Basic Responsibilities of Nonprofit Boards, and developed a board self-assessment tool to help boards evaluate their performance in each of these areas.
The governance committee plays a key role in ensuring that boards are well-aligned around their roles and responsibilities, which requires a combination of ongoing board education and development and regular performance assessment.
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