Board Series: What Do Governing Boards Do?

*Note: All of my posts on governing boards will be about nonprofit boards who have moral ownership they are accountable to.

When switching my website to a new platform I, unfortunately, lost several of my posts, most of which had to do with Board Governance and board work. So frustrating! However, it can be argued that having to rewrite something also reinforces ones learning. So here we go!

If you had asked me five years ago what board governance was, I would have had no idea, other than to say that it probably had to do with some type of decision-making process. Five years later, having served and am currently serving on a board, having taken and nearly completed a Board Governance class, I am much better informed. I also discovered along the way that I enjoy board governance!

So today I thought I would start by answering the most basic question I could think of, What Do Governing Boards Do?

First off, let’s define governance, what is that? The dictionary’s definition of governing is this: “conduct the policy, actions, and affairs of (a state, organization, or people) with authority.” Governing boards are boards whose directors are empowered through a screening and election process to make decisions for the moral ownership/membership that has elected them. These particular types of boards “is as high in the structure as one can go and still be within the organizational framework.”1

What are the basic responsibilities of a nonprofit board? The Nonprofit Board Answer Book: A Practical Guide for Board Members and Chief Executives suggests the following activities:

  1. Determine the organization’s mission and purposes. 
  2. Select the CEO.
  3. Support and evaluate the chief executive.
  4. Ensure effective planning.
  5. Monitor and strengthen programs and services.
  6. Ensure adequate financial resources.
  7. Protects assets and provide financial oversight.
  8. Build a competent board. 
  9. Ensure legal and ethical integrity.
  10. Enhance the organizations public standing. 2

It is important to note that each of the above areas can be broken down further because I’m not answering the how question, but the ten things listed above are most of the primary things a nonprofit board is responsible for, but please remember boards have legal duties as well (Duty of Care, Duty of Loyalty, Duty of Obedience).

How can a board be most effective? By ensuring they have a current Board Policies Manual.

A nonprofit organization can move its governance from good to great if its board of directors develops plicies that cover every aspect of the organization’s business and documents them in a Board Policies Manual that it revises at every board meeting and updates frequently. 3

Does a board spend all of its time writing policy? No. There may be a season where a board has to dig in and create or revise certain policies (they may hire a consultant to help them with this), but once a good Board Policies Manual (BPM) is in place, a board should be monitoring and revising as necessary to ensure they are governing with excellence.

Policies are to serve the board and the organization. The primary responsibilities of a  governing board could also be summarized this way. They are to ensure they are spending 40-60% of the time focused on strategic discussions (Why are we here? Why do we exist? Where are we going together?), monitoring and revising the BPM (How are we going to do this together?), caring for an empowering the CEO (Who is responsible for what?), and influencing the strategic action plan (What are the empowering boundaries, also commonly referred to as the Executive Limitations?)

That’s it for today, I’ll pick this up another day.

Be blessed,

Carmen

Author: Carmen Kampman

The Reverend Carmen Kampman is a woman on the road of leadership. Ordained with the PAOC, she is a steward of God’s call to women in ministry, and the founder of LEAD Women, a ministry equipping Christian women for leadership. She is also VP of Advancement at Horizon College & Seminary, and a graduate student in the Masters of Leadership program at Briercrest Seminary. Through study, discipline, and passionate encouragement, Carmen cultivates the deep wells of God’s grace and invites others to journey with her, to discover for themselves who they are and how God is calling them to where they want to be.

  1. John Carver, Boards that Make a Difference: A New Design for Leadership in Nonprofit and Public Organizations (San Fransico: Jossey-Bass, 1990), 2.
  2. The Nonprofit Board Answer Book: A Practical Guide for Board Members and Chief Executives (Sanfranciso: Jossey-Bass, 2012), 4.
  3. Fredric L. Laughlin, Robert C. Andringa, Good Governance for Nonprofits: Developing Principles and Policies for an Effective Board (New York: Amacom, 2007), 14.

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