Joining a Non-Profit Board

By: Shannon Robinson, CPA-Senior Accountant

Before deciding to join a board one should know what a board member’s responsibilities are.  Many board positions are volunteer positions that require a time commitment and a great deal of responsibility.  Non-profits are looking for board members to contribute their expertise while helping them achieve their mission.  Board members also have legal and ethical obligations.  A board members responsibilities fall under three main areas including strategic, legal, and fiduciary. 

Strategically, the member is to help the organization achieve their mission.  The mission addresses why the entity exists, what it hopes to accomplish, and what activities it will undertake. Part of the member’s strategic responsibility includes hiring and evaluating the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and determining the compensation of the CEO.  The CEO is who is responsible for the day to day operations of the organization so the board has to be sure they hire the right person for the job.

Legally, the member has the duty of care, duty of loyalty, and the duty of obedience.  Duty of care means that the member is to make responsible and sound judgements and show active preparation and participation in board meetings.  The duty of loyalty means putting the needs of the organization before ones own.  The duty of obedience means that one is faithful to the mission.  It also means that one is responsible to ensure compliance with laws and regulations. 

Fiduciary responsibility is the obligation to act in the best interest of another party.  A member should act to protect the property, financial assets, and the reputation of the organization.  Along with this, one should be able to read and understand financial statements, read, understand, and approve a budget, ensure all tax filing requirements and obligations have been met, and review the Form 990 before submission.  One should ask for timely financial reports so performance can be assessed.  It is ones right and duty as a board member to be informed.

This might seem like a lot of responsibility and you might be asking yourself why should one get involved in a non-profit board?  There are many reasons including networking, enhancing your resume, or to stretch your intellectual and emotional muscles.  There are other reasons that are less self-fulfilling such as committing to make your community a better place, to become more passionate about an organization, or to give back to an organization that once gave to you. 

Once one decides to join a board they should ask questions of the current board and organization to make sure they fully understand their responsibilities as each board is different.  New members should review items such as by-laws, annual report / financial statements, and a list of the directors and senior staff.  New members should also inquire of the organization to determine if they have directors and officers insurance to protect its board members in the case of any actual or alleged act or omission, error, misstatement, neglect, or breach of duty.       

Once you determine to make this commitment how do you become a member?  You can talk to those you know that might now of an opening and work through them to get a seat.  There are also websites specifically designed to help you find an opening on a board.  Another way is to do your research and find a specific organization that you want to join and reach out to them directly to see if they have any openings.