Nonprofit organizations, by law, are governed by a Board of Directors. BoardSource, a national organization providing training and information about board governance, lists three primary roles for board members:
(1) Establish Organizational Identity,
(2) Ensure Resources, and
(3) Provide Oversight.
These three primary roles can be further broken up into 10 key responsibilities of board members:
(1) Determine the organization’s mission and purpose: An organization’s mission and purpose guide planning and decision making, and explains the organization’s reason for being to both internal and external stakeholders. The board should periodically review its mission as part of strategic planning process.
(2) Select the Executive Director: The board has a responsibility to select the Executive Director and to provide a working environment that ensures the success of the Executive.
(3) Support and evaluate the Executive Director: The board provides moral, professional, and substantive support to the Executive Director. The board should be aware of temporary personal issues that may arise that impede an Executive’s ability to fulfill their duty, and should work with the Executive during these times to assure continuity of the organization.
(4) Ensure effective organizational planning: board members are expected to participate in planning processes, and to help implement the goals and objectives of the plan. This role includes securing resources necessary to run programs and services.
(5) Ensure adequate resources: It is the board’s responsibility to assure adequate resources for the organization to fulfil its mission. The Executive Director or Director of Development may be the chief fund raiser, but the Board must align fund-raising capacity to the planned strategies and initiatives of the organization.
(6) Manage resources effectively: Board members are legally the trustees of an organization’s assets and income, and have the responsibility to manage these resources. Board members must act reasonably and in good faith with regard to stewarding assets, with the interests of the organization front and center. Boards assist in developing the annual budget, and ensure that proper financial oversight is in place.
(7) Monitor and strengthen programs and services: Along with setting the strategic direction for the organization, the board must align programs and services with mission and purpose. Monitoring and oversight is meant to determine a program’s effectiveness. This is balanced with the staff’s responsibility to creatively identify, develop and implement programs and services.
(8) Enhance the organization’s public image: Board members serve as ambassadors of the organization. They must be able to clearly articulate the organization’s mission, accomplishments, and goals to the public. Additionally, in serving as ambassadors, board members garner support for the organization from the community.
(9) Build a competent board and assess its own performance: Boards fluctuate in membership, and it is the duty of the board to assure its own continuity and continued excellent performance. Existing board members must see as their duty the recruitment, orientation, and mentorship of new board members. Strong boards have documents that specify the requirements of board service, and mechanisms in place to evaluate board performance.
(10) Ensure legal and ethical integrity: Boards operate according to legal standards and ethical norms. It is the responsibility of the board to know these standards and norms, and to assume responsibility for adhering to specified standards.
Quick resource: Boardsource, Board Roles and Responsibilities Checklist