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BOARDS OF DIRECTORS
You have just agreed to serve as a member of the Board of Directors of a local organization
Your organization has just filled that last vacancy on the Board of Directors
In either case, congratulations! and I wish you the good working relationships that lead to success at meeting your personal and organizational missions.
I’ve served as a member and officer of several Boards of Directors and also served as Executive Director of a variety of organizations. In both cases, the “fit” for Board membership is as critical as the fit of the Executive Director for organizational success and personal satisfaction.
Membership on a Board of Directors (BOD) means different things to different people. You may be passionate about the work of the organization, especially if this is a nonprofit service and you participated in development and/or growth of the organization. Or, you may be joining the Board of a prestigious large organization. You were selected because of your professional credentials and your business connections. How ever your appointment came about, you will enjoy this time and serve best if you participate fully in your role.
The membership of the Board of Directors also means different things to different organizations. Perhaps the organization was looking to fill vacancies or for new members to strengthen the ability to meet mission and vision. Recruitment of strong members relies on presenting a clear picture of the organization’s mission and reputation for offering relevant service.
Organizational Mission is the basis for the Board and is subject to change only by formal Board action. The Board of Directors has final legal authority for success or failure of the organization and everyone must understand this. The duty of the Board is to govern the affairs of the organization ensuring adequacy of assets and community support for the organization. The BOD is responsible to employ a suitable Executive Director (ED) to manage the work of the organization. The BOD, under the Articles of Incorporation, outlasts individual Board members and Executive Directors. There are a variety of operational practices to fulfill the organization’s purpose, often depending on the personality and abilities of individual players. An open and complementary working relationship between Board members and the ED is necessary to achieve ongoing success. If a Board member or the ED cannot fulfill this commitment, the proper thing will be to resign from the organization, or to be removed.
As a member of the BOD, you are accepting responsibility as well as the prestige of appointment. To fulfill your responsibilities you should expect an orientation to your new position that includes legal and operational facts, access to organizing documents, history, and periodic financial and statistical reports. You will volunteer for committee work and may be elected to hold an office. Enjoy these opportunities to learn and serve. As a Board member, you have the right and responsibility to question and verify what is presented to you. Examples of indicators the Board may be responsible to monitor: governance (Board participation), financial health/performance, workplace/human relations, infrastructure/internal operations, fund development, marketing/communications, mission/strategic thinking, quality, and program outcomes. You will show your commitment to the organization by your contributions of time and financial support.
It is important for each Board member to express their individual views to the entire Board knowing full discussion will result in honest understanding between members. If a Board member feels intimidated, the Board is immediately weaker than the sum of its parts. The Board may have differing opinions but must arrive at consensus statements that can be supported for the organization.
When the BOD and ED fail to work together, the organization will surely fail at some level, if not altogether. I once advised an ED who developed a worthwhile nonprofit idea and grudgingly assembled a BOD. The BOD seldom met and was not involved in the work of the organization. That organization was short-lived. I was a Board officer of a busy growing organization that hired a new ED who failed to heed the organization’s mission and informally gained support of some Board members for new programs. That organization failed rapidly. I was an assistant ED who disagreed with a BOD and resigned my position rather than compromise my beliefs. Board membership always results in learning.
A complementary BOD and ED working relationship results in a vibrant and successful organization that meets goals. Positive interactions help the organization to operate smoothly and to grow. The atmosphere of the entire workforce radiates cooperation and desire for success in fulfilling the Mission. Staff turnover is low, customers are satisfied, and community volunteer and financial support becomes the norm. Whether a Board member or ED, I have worked with organizations that were successful and grew because of mutual respect for all members of the organization and all its working parts. Differences of opinion were discussed openly and resolution accepted by all. The work done by those organizations met mission/vision and led to organizational and personal success and growth.
Whether you joined a Board of Directors or added a new member to your Board of Directors you have the opportunity to increase positive results for a matter important to you. When like-minded people come together, the result will be increased influence and knowledge of the subject matter, and expanded important results. The world will be a better place because of cooperative involvement. We need lots of that.
About the Author
Joan Bachman is a Registered Nurse, Licensed Nursing Home Administrator, Registered Health Information Technician, and Faith Community Nurse. She earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration. Joan has experience as a Nurse, Administrator, Developer, Trainer, Grant Writer, and served as Administrator of SD State Survey Agency. She has consulted with health care facilities and nonprofit organizations and presented leadership training. Joan is the author of Guidebook for Assisted Living Facilities and Senior Service Providers and Guidebook for Physician Services in the Nursing Facility, and she has published in professional journals.
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