Between ongoing preparations for my dissertation research and my real-life responsibilities serving on nonprofit boards, I’m spending a lot of time these days pondering the ultimate contributions – and the most compelling responsibilities – of governance.
One thing that’s been troubling me of late: the increasing emphasis on the oversight tasks of board work. Obviously, organizational accountability is critical work, work that falls squarely on the board’s shoulders. Educating board members about those responsibilities and helping them be as effective as possible in carrying them out is vitally important.
However, I fear that we risk minimizing equally vital functions that require board leadership in our intense focus on this one area – functions that not only sustain the organization but also create a rich future that moves closer toward its mission.
As I’ve attempted to put my concerns into context, I’ve begun to articulate an alternate job description that comes closer to describing in a balanced way the areas where board members can not only fulfill governance obligations but also make a specific unique impact.
My job description is very much “draft,” a work in progress. But I’d like share where I’m headed right now, and welcome feedback that might help me refine my thinking.
Right now, I see a four-role model:
I’ll conclude this entry with a brief description of the first two roles. My next entry will describe the other half of the model.
As a STEWARD, the board member takes responsibility for appropriate use of the organization’s resources – human, financial and reputational. Boards spend vast amounts of time – appropriately so – setting budgets, approving and monitoring expenditures, and other duties involving numbers. But stewardship extends beyond money: it’s doing everything in your power to ensure that your nonprofit meets all legal requirements and the highest ethical standards. Stewardship is more than oversight. It’s protecting and growing resources to help you achieve your mission – and ensuring that what is given is used effectively toward that purpose.
The board member as nonprofit LEADER shines the light on the organization’s vision and mission – and on the processes and relationships that facilitate them. Leadership is a partnership, between board members, and between board and executive director. Leadership defines and supports mission, and ensures that all decisions – particularly program selection – move the organization in that direction. Board leaders speak up, and out, about issues that impact their mission and their organization’s capacity to meet it.