March 2019 – Rick Szilagyi, Principal

Our June 2018 newsletter included an article titled, “Responsibilities of Board Members,” which dealt with the three duties of fiduciary responsibility: care, loyalty, and obedience.  Important, to be sure… but a very dry topic.

Let’s make it a little more specific to the daily activities of small nonprofits, and a little more detailed relative to roles and responsibilities.  AND, after listing a few points regarding work that should be performed by board members, I am going to list a few that you should take care to avoid.

The work of nonprofit board members should include the following:

  • Understand that there is a time commitment – The time commitment does not have to be overwhelming.  It may be one or two hours per week on average.  Leverage your time.  For example, utilizing video conferencing eliminates travel time.
  • Serving on committees – Small nonprofits need board members to participate in committee work—that is, work done outside of board meetings.  The result is streamlined board meetings where decisions can be made based on the work done previously in committee meetings.
  • Assisting in fundraising activities – Helping to keep funds flowing into the organization is definitely part of the work of board members of small nonprofits.  There are many approaches that do not sap much of your time.  For example, the President of one of our clients routinely makes email introductions so that I can then follow-up with details, and it works well.
  • Evangelizing on behalf of the organization – As a board member, you should seize every opportunity to make sure that potentially-relevant contacts are aware of the good work that your nonprofit is doing.
  • Recruiting potential new board members – Your nonprofit should have an established system for vetting potential appointees/nominees, and as a board member, you should always be on the lookout for potential new board members.
  • Following on the heels of the above general responsibility, at some point your term will end.  Identifying/recruiting potential replacements for yourself is absolutely a responsibility on your plate.  One of our clients will be seeing a board member stepping down soon.  She is a strong, long-time contributor in executing continuing education for the organization, and she is actively lining up potential replacements.
  • Understanding the financial position of the organization – Not everyone is enthralled by reviewing financials.  But it is enough knowing the current 30,000’ status of the organization. 
  • Vetting, selecting, and reviewing the Executive Director and/or management company to whom you rely on performing work.

And now, a few things to avoid…

  • Conflict of interest – Take care to avoid getting yourself into a position where your responsibilities to one organization may be working contrary to that of another organization in which you are involved.  Many years ago, I saw one organization clearly state that a board member could not be on the board of other specific organizations – organizations that, at first glance, anyone would assume could be closely-aligned.  Now, after many years, I get it.  If you do find yourself in a challenging position, do not hesitate to recuse yourself on issues and decisions when appropriate.
  • Decentralization of files and certain tasks – Having grown up in large, for-profit companies, I am no stranger to centralization/decentralization issues.  When it comes to board work, all board members should be evangelizing, fundraising, identifying potential board members, etc.  Other tasks need to be centralized.  If you do not do so, files and records end up everywhere.  Eventually, their being everywhere will result in their being nowhere.
  • Don’t rush personnel decisions – Long ago, it became apparent to me that when a manager got his or her staffing right, the other responsibilities of being a manger became much easier.  Don’t rush to fill a board seat, even now in a time when volunteerism is trending downwards.  You’re better off having your current board members and staff “cover” for an opening than putting the wrong person in to fill the seat.

Below are three articles which take a deep-dive into the “Do’s”:

  1. What are a Board Member’s Responsibilities?
  2. Board Roles and Responsibilities
  3. 7 Responsibilities of Nonprofit Board Members

The Lexian Management newsletter is for informational purposes only.

Always consult your attorney, accountant, and/or insurance provider to obtain advice with respect to any particular issue or concern.