Many people involved in the non-profit sector are passionate about providing services and enhancing the lives of people they know or people they may have never even met. Whether as staff or volunteers, they get involved in an organization to “do good,” to make positive change in the community. Boards contribute to the mission of an organization by governing it. Carter McNamara, an American management consultant and founder of the Free Management Library who writes extensively about non-profit boards says, “The phrase ‘governance’ often refers to the Board’s activities to oversee the purpose, plans and policies of the overall organization, such as establishing those overall plans and policies, supervision of the CEO, ensuring sufficient resources for the organization, ensuring compliance to rules and regulations, representing the organization to external stakeholders, etc.”
Individual board members may take on other volunteer activities, but as a board, their key role is governance. The main tasks of board members and the board as a whole are:
- Ensuring that the organization complies with all laws, as well as with its own policies.
- Being good stewards of the organization’s financial and other resources.
- Avoiding conflicts of interest.
- Taking part in strategic planning, and ensuring that board decisions align with the organization’s strategic goals.
- Understanding the different roles and responsibilities of the board and its staff.
- Communicating clearly and honestly within the board, and with staff, members, stakeholders and the general public as appropriate.
- Creating appropriate governance structures, and developing a board manual that includes all pertinent governance-related information.
- Providing board orientation, training, evaluation and succession planning.
By focusing on their role as governors of an organization, boards can be more consistent and strategic in their decision making. In this way, a board ensures that the organization’s resources are used to achieve its strategic priorities, while making more effective use of their valuable volunteer time.