Monday, March 5, 2007

Board Roles & Responsibilities – Round 5

We wrap up our look at the 10 basic board responsibilities, with an examination of accountability concerns and recruitment and orientation of new members.

Responsibility 9: Ensure legal and ethical integrity and maintain accountability. Certainly, one could make a convincing argument for the notion that ALL organizations should strive for the highest ethical standards in daily business. But that need probably is heightened in the nonprofit sector, where credibility and public good will are essential. For the most part, we feel we can trust our nonprofits to act in the public interest. As a result, nonprofits enjoy relative freedom in their quest to serve the public good. But that freedom has limits. If your organization loses that public trust, if it loses credibility with volunteers, donors, policymakers and other key stakeholders, you have truly have nothing. That fact is the bottom line answer to the “who cares” question of ethics.

A great starting point for understanding accountability issues is the Independent Sector ( On that site, you will find a link to a 2002 publication, Obedience to the Unenforceable, which emerged from a broad discussion facilitated by IS’s Committee on Values and Ethics. One of the more important ideas that emerged for me as I read that report is the list of “essential values and ethical behaviors” that all nonprofits should share:

• “Commitment beyond self
• “Obedience of the laws
• “Commitment beyond the law
• “Commitment to the public good
• “Respect for the wroth and dignity of individuals
• “Tolerance, diversity, and social justice
• “Accountability to the public
• “Openness and honesty and
• “Responsible stewardship of resources” (p. 9).

The committee recommended a series of five foundational steps for all nonprofit organizations:

• “Adopt an organizational creed of ethical practices
• “Conduct an ethics audit or self-evaluation every year
• “Subscribe to and abide by a set of codes or standards
• “Involve all of their constituencies in the process and
• “Infuse the process and the documents into the culture of the total organization” (p. 9).

Responsibility 10: Recruit and orient new board members and assess board performance. When you identify a good match between board need and individual qualities, it’s time to invite a prospect to join your board. An invitation should include a description of expectations. Don’t minimize your requirements – it’s better to provide an accurate picture and be turned down than to bring on board someone who is unable to fulfill responsibilities later on.

All new members must receive a thorough orientation to both the organization and to the board. Some of this information can be shared in a fairly straightforward way (e.g., handbooks, articles, web resources) that the new member can peruse at his/her leisure. Other aspects should include one-on-one contact with board and organizational leadership.

Critical to the orientation process is early immersion in your organizational culture. Immediately assign new board members to active committees that use their interests and talents. Consider assigning new members to a mentor or “board buddy,” for the first six months to one year.

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