Have you heard these statements?
- “Nonprofit Boards of Directors must practice good governance.”
- “The nonprofit is governed by its Board of Directors.”
The topic of nonprofit Board governance can be confusing, mostly because this important concept may not be fully understood. In general, governance brings together policies, systems and structures that provide support to Board members in making good decisions for the nonprofit according to expectations of the public trust.
Right there, you see that the topic can get confusing. It might help to know that governing a nonprofit is different from governing a for-profit organization. Nonprofits serve a public purpose without benefiting any particular individual. Therefore, the basic goal in governance for nonprofits focuses on protecting and furthering the mission of the nonprofit. However, the goal of a for-profit company is to generate income for the company, employee and shareholders.
Nonprofit boards are considered “Stewards of the Public Trust”, which signifies the general public trusts that a nonprofit is fulfilling its mission as stated to the IRS when it was granted exemption status as a nonprofit organization. The Board has three primary responsibilities: Duty of Care, Duty of Loyalty, and Duty of Obedience.
Duty of Care means the Board will make decisions with the same level of care as each member would for their own personal assets (even though board members have no personal assets in the nonprofit).
Duty of Loyalty means the Board puts the needs of the organization and the population that it serves above all other needs, especially the individual’s or group’s personal agenda.
Duty of Obedience means the Board will maintain compliance with all legal standards and regulations required for the exempt organization, including annual filings with state and federal agencies.
A 2017 study on Boards of Directors showed that 56 percent of nonprofit Boards struggle with weak Board governance. As a result, approximately 52 percent of nonprofits are unable to expand their impact because of a weakness in strategic thinking such as developing a mission, strategy, impact evaluation, or insight by their Board.
What should be noted, however, is that these limitations are most likely not the fault of the Board members. Instead it’s more a matter of “you don’t know what you don’t know!” Without a doubt, those serving on a nonprofit Board have every intention of doing the right thing, making the right decisions, and being a good steward of the organization. But like coming into anything for the first time, Board members need to learn how to effectively govern a nonprofit and serve as a productive Board member. That takes information, training and dedication.
Spokes is always here to assist nonprofit Boards with the development of policies and procedures as well as providing an understanding of the legal and ethical responsibilities of the Board. Visit our website at https://www.spokesfornonprofits.org/services/just-for-board-members/ to learn more about the resources we have available to provide local nonprofit Boards with the management training, consulting and resources they need to better serve our community.
Resources about Nonprofit Board Governance:
Good Governance Policies for Nonprofits: https://www.councilofnonprofits.org/tools-resources/good-governance-policies-nonprofits
Study: Most Nonprofits Lacking in Leadership, Management http://www.thenonprofittimes.com/news-articles/study-nonprofits-lacking-leadership-management/