5 Principles and 10 Responsibilities for Well-Functioning Nonprofit Boards

According to the BoardSource booklet titled “Ten Basic Responsibilities of Nonprofit Boards”, the following five concepts underlie effective nonprofit boards of directors:

  1. Because every organization is unique, no one-size-fits-all model of governance applies.  There are, however, certain fundamental responsibilities common to nearly all boards.  These responsibilities, in turn, provide a frame of reference for assessing the board’s performance periodically.  It is equally important to clearly articulate expectations for those who serve on boards and to use those standards to assess individual board member performance.
  2. Board and board member performance depend greatly on the need for management, especially the chief executive, to understand and respect the governing board’s duty and obligation to provide responsible oversight as well as strategic leadership.  A board with motivated members will only be effective and consequential if its executive leadership is also effective and supportive.
  3. How a board organizes itself matters, but not nearly so much as the sophistication, commitment, skills, and experience of those invited to serve on the board and how they are led and work together.  This has profound implications for the process of selecting board members.
  4. The members of truly high-performing boards ask good and timely questions and are more strategic than operational in their work; they don’t manage programs or implement their own policies.  Smaller organizations, especially those where board members also volunteer in certain staff functions, should hire staff as soon as practical so the board can concentrate on governance.
  5. Over time, all organizations undergo a metamorphosis that calls for periodic evaluation, fine-tuning, and sometimes a major overhaul in how and by whom they are governed and how they select board members.  High-performing boards consistently self-correct and look or create ways to self-renew; boredom and routine in boardrooms spell trouble.  As organizations grow in complexity and consequence, for example, how they were once governed is unlikely to the same as how they should be governed.

Additionally, 10 responsibilities for nonprofit boards are: 

1. Determine the Mission and Purposes
2. Select the Chief Executive
3. Support and Evaluate the Chief Executive
4. Ensure Effective Planning
5. Monitor and Strengthen Programs and Services
6. Ensure Adequate Financial Resources
7. Protect Assets and Provide Financial Oversight
8. Build a Competent Board
9. Ensure Legal and Ethical Integrity
10. Enhance the Organization’s Public Standing

Richard T. Ingram, Ten Basic Responsibilities of Nonprofit Boards, Second Edition (BoardSource 2009).
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About National Executive Service Corps

National Executive Service Corps is a nonprofit dedicated to empowering nonprofits since 1977.
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