Speedometer for nonprofit board members

Nonprofit Board Member: Stay In Your Lane!

New cars are equipped with a lane departure feature that warns you when you’re crossing the line and drifting into another lane. It signals you to pay attention, refocus, correct your steering, and stay in your lane before a potential accident occurs. If only there was that type of warning device when a board member crosses the line with their organization’s leadership and drift into areas that are the responsibility of the Executive Director.   

When board members begin to drift into the Executive Director’s lane it can and does negatively impact the organization’s mission and work. It causes disruption with the staff, the board, and with the Executive Director who is responsible for the management of the organization. It can lead to the demise of good executive leadership. In fact, Stanford Social Innovation lists it among the top three dysfunctions of nonprofit boards. 

So, where is the line between the roles and responsibilities of a Board and the Executive Director?  Let’s start by looking at the three defined duties of a board member.

The Duty of Care:  As a  Board member you are ensuring the organization has the necessary funding strategy and legal compliance to succeed, and the prudent use of the organization’s assets

The Duty of Loyalty: As a Board member you are putting the nonprofit’s needs first and foremost and not in the interests of yourself, of another board member, or other individuals or other entities.

The Duty of Obedience: As a Board Member you are ensuring the nonprofit obeys applicable laws and regulations, follows bylaws, and adheres to the stated purpose and mission of the organization. You are acting as a board unit and not as an outcast or renegade.

How does that translate into the day-to-day operations of the organization?  Boards need to view themselves as the governing body of the organization and not the administrators of the organization. Administration and operations are the roles of the Executive Director and the staff. The difference can be summed up in a few words.  Among their primary duties, the Board creates and approves the annual budget, internal control policies, and supports fundraising endeavors by being examples for others to follow.  They hire and evaluate the Executives Director, and approve the mission and strategic plan that supports the mission. The Executive Director develops budgets and collaborates with the board on internal controls and implements activities. They create and execute fundraising strategies and administer programs as defined in the strategic plan. They are responsible for hiring staff and staff compensation and are the outward face of the organization. Both, the Board and the Executive Director are responsible for the compliance, and regulatory requirements, and operating within the organization’s stated mission. When Board and Executive Directors work in tandem within the scope of their respective responsibilities, it results in a positive impact on the organization and its mission. 

When you sense the roles are crossing the line, listen for the lane change warning and adjust your steering to stay in your lane. It will help avoid a collision and ensure a smooth ride. 



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