Friday, February 23, 2007

Basic Board Responsibilities-Round One

When you signed up for your first board assignment, did you have a clear understanding of the responsibilities involved? Were you oriented to the job, and were the board’s roles described in an understandable way? Did this happen whenever you joined a new board? What are the responsibilities of nonprofit boards, anyway?

One of the more comprehensive and user-friendly descriptions of the board member’s job that I’ve found comes from BoardSource , which offers up “Ten Basic Responsibilities of Nonprofit Boards.” In the next five posts, I’ll share those roles and some thoughts about each one.

Responsibility 1: Determine the organization’s mission and purpose. Everything in governance starts with attention to mission. Your mission is your reason for being: why you exist, for what purpose. It not only defines who you are as an organization, but what who you are not, by providing reasonable boundaries that facilitate focus. Your mission drives decisions about programming you’ll offer; groups you will serve; donations you’ll accept, from whom; messages you’ll convey in your communication efforts. It drives strategic planning processes and discussions.

The National School Boards Association has a brief overview of mission (and vision) that I’ve often found helpful. The Teal Trust also does a nice job of explaining mission in a nutshell.

I’ve also drawn on these resources in retreat settings, to good reviews from board member participants:

• Grantsmanship Center. How to Write a Mission Statement.
• TCC Group. Mission Possible: Improving Your Organization’s Mission Statement.

Responsibility 2: Select the chief executive. The executive director is the board’s partner in the leadership team. Having a clearly articulated job description is essential. Going into the process with a list of the essential characteristics and skills you seek, based on that job description, is equally important. Clarity about the organization’s short- and long-term priorities as it moves closer to its mission will help you and the applicant anticipate whether or not a hire will be a good fit for everyone.

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