What does a nonprofit board do?

I now work for a nonprofit board of directors, so when one of my friends told me that she just joined a nonprofit board and took a class on what it means to be on the board of directors, I got pretty excited.

Over lunch, my friend (Serena) answered all my questions and brought me her class materials. The slides looked like the discussion might have been interesting. The booklet she got (which she said they valued dearly and I checked, it sells for $20) was a good summary. It was less than 30 pages of content but it summarized the board of directors' duties well. (And I'm happy to say I've seen the GNOME Foundation's board doing all of these things!) There's an even shorter online summary here, as well as a lot of good (free) articles on the BoardSource website. From the book Ten Basic Responsibilities of Nonprofit Boards:

  1. Determine the organization's mission and purpose. (They can and should consult with others but it's their responsibility.)
  2. Select the chief
    executive. (And decide what they should do.)
  3. Provide proper
    financial oversight. (Budgeting, planning, making sure the money is in a safe place.)
  4. Ensure
    adequate resources. (Make sure things can get done.)
  5. Ensure
    legal and ethical integrity and maintain accountability. (This is for the organization, its members and staff.)
  6. Ensure effective organizational
    planning. (Are programs in place to further the mission and goals of the organization?)
  7. Recruit
    and orient new board members and assess board performance. (Making sure the board continues to function well.)
  8. Enhance the organization's public
    standing. (This is telling the world about the organization and recruiting new members and support.)
  9. Determine, monitor, and strengthen
    the organization's programs and services. (Managing the day to day stuff including fund raising.)
  10. Support the
    chief executive and assess his or her performance. (Making sure the chief executive knows what he/she should be doing and has the resources to do it.)

One of the things I always thought would be intimidating about being on a board of directors (nonprofit or not) is knowing what you are responsible and liable for. I'm glad to see there are lots of resources out there for people willing to serve on the boards of nonprofits. (My friend's class, and the book, were free; provided by 211/United Way of Larimer County.)

P.S. Serena is helping Steppin' Out, an organization in Fort Collins that helps foster kids that have "graduated" out of foster care. When they turn 18 most of them are suddenly without a home, parents, savings, car, high school diploma, mentors, etc. Steppin' Out helps them find jobs, cars, training, etc.

2 Replies to “What does a nonprofit board do?”

  1. A word of warning. I was once asked to sit on a board for the library system of a large university. After about three meetings I realized that the board members were expected to contribute a large sum to the library. I had to resign.

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