Roles and Responsibilities

In Board Development, Evaluations, Strategic Planning by Geoff Burns

Ahh, the confusion of who does what. In nonprofit settings, especially those organizations which are relatively young, knowing exactly who is responsible for what can be vexing. It is easy to assume that the Executive Director is responsible for everything except policy, but is that really the case?

Lets look at organizations under 10 years of age and less than $1M annual budget. These organizations often have some success in meeting their mission goals. Have regular board meetings and the Executive Director pretty much runs the show. There may be committees or may not. Meetings are mostly run by the ED and as long as the board doesn’t have to do much, the meeting is informational and procedural with out much effort by the board. When things are difficult financially, the board looks to the ED and may begin to question the leader’s skills and ability to run the organization. If fundraising is down, the eyes are on the ED. If program participation is low, eyes are on the ED.

Understand that it is the board of directors who have the ultimate authority and responsibility to fund and fundraise for the organization. A board of directors may feel that it is a good idea to create a pay scale for an Executive Director based on the amount of funds raised. However, if the board thinks that means that the individual members don’t have to participate in fundraising, then the organization is destined for disaster.

Board members play a critical role in getting an organization functional. In other words, Board members are carry the responsibility to grow the fundraising base and actively participate in transitioning from an active board to a policy board. Far too often, when an organization is struggling, it is the board that is lacking engagement. In these instances, frequently it is the ED that is the face of the organization and the board members are not well known in the community. For organizations that are functional, the board has the responsibility of improving efficiency, impact and awareness. Boards are also responsible to evaluate the effectiveness of the organization in achieving its mission.

While the ED definitely plays a key role in funding the organization, it is the board that carries the ultimate responsibility for making sure the organization is managed properly. For board members who have served other established organizations that don’t need “hands-on” assistance, this can be a shock. Since most board members have never been involved with a young, developing organization, there are very few board members that simply understand their role. When it comes time for the board members to seek new members, it is difficult to express the real needs of the organization and the responsibilities of the board members.

Ultimately, what most organizations need is education and dedication. Many board members don’t really know what it means to be a great board member. In short, a great board member is dedicated to attending every meeting, every training, actively support financially, and advocate for the organization to circles of influence. The current school of thought is that a board member should support the organization at 80% giving level. This means that if a board member donates $1000 year to charities, $800 should go to the organization that he/she is a board member. Guidestar puts it this way: Nonprofit board members have two basic responsibilities—support and governance—each requiring different skills and expertise. In the role of “supporter” board members raise money, bring contacts to the organization, and act as ambassadors to the community. Equally important, the “governance” role involves protection of the public interest, being a fiduciary, selecting the executive director and assessing his/ her performance, ensuring compliance with legal and tax requirements, and evaluating the organization’s work.

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