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Roles and responsibilities of board members

Many people view board membership in non-profits as an honor, and that may be true, but it is also a big responsibility.  A board member is trusted with the important role of Director and should be an advocate for the organization.  Basic responsibilities can include the following:

Determine the mission, vision and purpose of the organization.

Ensure effective long range strategic planning.

Ensure adequate financial resources are available.

Protect assets and reputation of entity.

Monitor and strengthen programs and services.

Select the CEO.

Provide guidance to the CEO and other executive and senior management.

Ensure financial records are audited regularly.

  Setting goals and expectations for the organization.

What the board is not responsible for is the day-to-day management of the business or organization.  The leadership of the organization ultimately reports up to the board.  When the board doesn’t take their responsibility seriously there are consequences.  The board should see that ethical standards are upheld by officers and employees.  When this doesn’t happen the organization’s members, donors, stakeholders, etc. are the ones who suffer, not to mention the organization’s constituency.

The board is generally charged with the search and hiring of the CEO.  The CEO must be held to the highest ethical standards and be held accountable.  Often boards don’t want to get their hands dirty and will not become engaged enough to be aware of “red flags” of impending problems.  Many organizations have gone “belly up” with boards made up of people unwilling to take action when issues arise.  This has happened with boards made up of successful business people who just were not willing to ask questions, hold the Executive Director or CEO’s feet to the fire and make the tough decisions needed.

On the other hand, there are many executives who are dedicated and give tirelessly to the organization, making sacrifices to carry out their duties.  When there is a healthy relationship between executives and the board, the organization will flourish.  Executives should welcome questions from the board and their involvement.

What happens to cause negative results in organizations?  Leaders get caught up in their importance and allow selfish desires to overtake their commitment to the organization.  They often make decisions to spend money that is not theirs without any thought to the effects on the organization.  Civic and charitable organizations have gotten in trouble and lost their credibility, reputation and legacies formed over many years of unselfish dedication and work of its predecessors.  Sometimes people who are elected to boards are unwilling to use their business sense and experience to apply the same standards to the charitable organization that they do in their businesses.  Negligence and mishandling that would not be tolerated in a business go on unattended  and unaddressed, sometimes for extended periods of time.  The demise rests on the shoulder of board members.  Due diligence must be maintained to ensure the business side of the organization is run properly.  Scrutiny of finances, audits and a thorough analysis of income and expenses should be performed on a regular basis as part of the board’s duties.

Communication is critical.  Addressing inadequacies in management and other leadership with thorough and honest evaluations should be done regularly.  Addressing problems is a responsibility that must not be shirked.

Much thought should be given to the people who are named to board positions.  A balance on the board membership, ensuring necessary skill sets are present in the makeup of the board, results in a better functioning and competent board.

Being elected to or chosen for board membership is far more than an honor.  It is a huge responsibility and board members must also be held accountable for their actions or lack of pro-activity.  The viability and future of the organization depends on it.

Becky Vaughn-Furlow retired from Trustmark Bank as Executive Vice President and Human Resources Director. She can be contacted by emailing bvaughnfurlow@gmail.com.