The Board Member’s Bill of Rights

We often say, "My Board won’t do anything," forgetting that no one is born knowing how to be a not-for-profit Board member.  These hard-working good-souled volunteers will do virtually anything we ask them to do, if we show them how.  In that spirit, I offer "The Board Member’s Bill of Rights," a combination hints-from-Heloise for executive directors and manifesto for Board members.  Questions?  Comments?  Disputes?  Rebuttals?  How, for instance, does this list help us figure out who’s in the right in the dispute between the ACLU’s executive director and members of its board over what they can and cannot say in public?

RIGHT #1: THE RIGHT TO UNDERSTAND A BOARD MEMBER’S ROLE

  • Give, get and govern–or get off.

RIGHT #2: THE RIGHT TO BE INFORMED ABOUT THE WORK OF THE GROUP

  • Orientation is only the beginning.
  • Continuous education:
  1. Copies of publications
  2. Regular report on activities
  3. Committee assignment or project
  4. Regular, individual phone or mail contact

RIGHT # 3: THE RIGHT TO BE HEARD

RIGHT #4: THE RIGHT TO PARTICIPATE IN THE GROUP’S WORK

  • DON’T ask Board members to help out in the office.
  • DO ask Board members to take on projects which turn their attention outward, into the community.
  • Always asks people to participate in pairs.

RIGHT #5: THE RIGHT TO STAFF SUPPORT

RIGHT #6: THE RIGHT TO TRY SOMETHING DIFFERENT

  • DON’T recruit people based on what they do for a living.
  • DO recruit them based on what they want to do for you.

RIGHT #7: THE RIGHT TO EQUAL TREATMENT

  • To be asked to do the same thing as every other Board member; and
  • To expect that everyone else on the Board is giving and doing as much as she is.
  • Everybody can afford to contribute something. (The right to support the agency they believe in.)
  • Time is not money: Boards get to govern the institution because they pay for it.

RIGHT #8: THE RIGHT TO RELIEF/THE RIGHT TO NEW BLOOD

  • Relief from their labors and new blood to help with those labors.
  • Board terms: the only non-lethal way to get rid of dead wood.

RIGHT #9: THE RIGHT TO BE PROTECTED FROM LIABILITY

  • Officers’ and directors’ liability insurance
  • Communicate!

RIGHT #10: THE RIGHT TO KNOW–

WHERE WE’VE BEEN;

WHERE WE’RE GOING;

WHAT WE’RE TRYING TO DO;

AND FOR WHOM.

Planning session at least every three years

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5 Responses to “The Board Member’s Bill of Rights”

  1. Jerry Case Says:

    From my experience on a board, you nailed this one dead one. Every board is going to have tensions and disagreements between members. Hey I’m am big boy and can deal with that. But nearly every frustration I have experienced at the operational level of the board I serve on has been violation these basic ten ideas.

  2. Fred Friedman Says:

    sigh

    once again a good blog but…

    I am on six different governing boards ( as I type this I am looking up at the six different orientation manuals) they range in size from a few thousand dollars in
    budget and no paid staff to tens of millions of dollars and hundreds of paid staff.

    All I can say is if you have sat on one board you have sat on one board.

    Each board is different, every oragainzation is different and thus a board member has to act different depending on what board he is sitting on at the moment. I should add that for me it is sometimes hard to remember, but then I am getting old.

  3. Kelly Kleiman Says:

    I wonder, though, which pieces of the Board Member’s Bill of Rights you think are applicable only to certain nonprofits. Are there any where the Board should be ignorant, or not raise money? I’ve never bought the distinction between “a policy Board” and “a fundraising Board”–they’re one and the same. Board members get to govern institutions because they pay for them. Thoughts in response?

  4. Fred Friedman Says:

    Kelly.

    I joined my first board almost exactly five years ago when I was a mentally ill person with no assets living in a homeless shelter. If board members get to govern institutions because they pay for them, then I should not have been asked to join the board. Or any of the other boards I am on.

    Since then I have joined four other boards, only one of them do I seek funds for. And none of them do I contribute to. Last fiscal year, I was chair of the Chicago continuum of Care. There are six other homeless people on the board. None of us contribute financially. In fact, we get compensated for participating. The Continuum has an operating budget of over 400,000 dollars and is responsible .for distributing over 40 million dollars. It could be that I, and the other 6 homeless people are really not governing the continuum, and in one sense that is true, since there are 21 other board members and we do not always get out way but we do sometime succeed. it could be that we are tokens, but I do not think so. What do you think?

  5. Nonprofiteer Says:

    I’m long overdue in responding to this–please forgive me. I think it’s because I’m stumped by your perspective. It seems insane to argue that “everyone can give money” when we’re talking about a population both homeless and mentally ill. At the same time, I don’t see any obstacle to applying my rule “everyone can raise money” to the client representatives on nonprofit boards–they’re often the most effective fundraisers because they can talk about how the agency’s work transforms lives.

    Nor do I think “client representative” is a polite term for “token.” I do think, though, that to the extent a Board member exempts him/herself from responsibilities all other Board members assume–and particularly the responsibility to help assure the institution’s financial stability through fundraising–that Board member will find him/herself marginalized, having lost credibility within the Board.

    Statements of expectations of Board members should be explicit about what expectations don’t apply to client representatives; and if they are, at least no one on the Board feels like s/he’s been snookered or subjected to unequal treatment. But I’d still think twice before exempting client representatives from the “get” part of “give, get and govern.”

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