Board Member Responsibilities

posted in: People, Policies 0

People generally join nonprofit boards because they believe in the organization’s mission, but that doesn’t mean that they understand what it takes to be a good board member – that is one of those things we all have to learn by practicing. One way to make on-the-job training of new board members easier is to have a written job description to use during recruitment and orientation, a short list of responsibilities that the board has agreed are important in order to accomplish its goals. For example:

Board Members are expected to:

  • Actively participate in overall planning for the organization
  • Regularly attend Board meetings, notifying the President in advance of any necessary absences
  • Prepare for meetings by reading all documents related to agenda items
  • Make a personally-meaningful donation
  • Help write thank you notes to donors
  • Serve as ambassadors for the organization
  • Update Annual Conflict of Interest Forms every year, or more often as conflicts arise

Board Members serve three-year terms and may serve up to two consecutive terms.

Time commitment is a minimum of one and one-half hours per month for the Board meeting, plus additional time for any committee meetings and committee work outside of meetings.

The list might also include expectations around attending performances, helping with programs, or fundraising, depending on the nonprofit and how it is set up.

If prospective board members agree to this, then it is fair to hold them accountable once they are on the board. They know that board membership isn’t just a resume item or a social club, that they are expected to show up and work; if they don’t, the President should have a discussion with them about their ability to commit to the board at this time. It also specifies roughly how much time they are expected to put in, which helps them plan their commitments and may deter people who are looking for a status symbol with no intention of working.

Not every nonprofit needs board member donations, but those applying for grants should be able to say that they have 100% board participation. Obviously, every board member can chip in $5 to cover the participation rate, but that is pretty minimal. Board members should believe in the organization enough to make an appropriate donation, depending on their circumstances; what is a sacrifice for one person is hardly noticeable for someone else.

If you are having trouble getting your board members to participate, then it might be time for a board discussion of what the board expects of its members and what makes a good board member. Ideally the entire board will discuss and agree on these items, and then write them down for future reference. It is always easier to do your job well when you know what is expected.