Monday, March 26, 2007

The Board's Accountability Responsibility

Pressure for accountability is especially strong in the nonprofit sector, which cannot exist without public trust and donor/funder confidence.

Accountability is an organization-wide responsibility, beginning with the board of directors. The board sets the tone, the board defines policies, and the board ultimately assumes responsibility for making sure that all of this happens.

To be honest, it was probably five or six years into my own board service that I even began to grasp the true gravity of the job. Understanding the depth of that responsibility has come over time, and sometimes “the hard way.” Board service is not to be taken lightly. Unfortunately, I believe many enter into the commitment without a clear understanding of exactly what it requires. I also believe well meaning people simply don't know the questions to ask before accepting a board position.

Certain aspects have received attention over the years, but a holistic approach to defining accountability is somewhat new. Fortunately, IF they know they need to be concerned about these issues, today's boards have a growing pool of resources available.

Financial accountability is a significant concern (or should be) for a nonprofit board. It's also one of the most terrifying for many members. Thinking over my own board experiences, the one piece of advice I'd take to heart - and share with others - is this: ask questions. Do everything you can to understand the organization's budget and to understand, and demand, regular reports of its financial status. If those reports do not meet your information needs, or if they are confusing, request a different system. As a board member, you not only have the right to fully understand the program's financial health. You have the responsibility to do so.

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