Board members also play the role of compliance officers, ensuring all team members obey state and federal nonprofit laws. Without direct oversight, an organization can quickly fall victim to fraud and legal actions.
Board members must also act as advisors for paid management. Most members will serve longer than management, giving them a unique perspective on long-term operations and organizational history.
Responsibilities as a Member of a Board
Board member responsibilities include legal and ethical obligations. The legal duties include the Duty of Care, Duty of Loyalty, and Duty of Obedience. On the surface, each of these responsibilities seems abstract and unenforceable, but each includes specific, job-specific acts with real consequences for ill-equipped or nefarious board members.
Duty of care refers to the care of the organization and its assets, including its people and reputation. All board members must act in ways that do not jeopardize the nonprofit. They cannot use the organization's facilities in ways that do not relate to its mission. They cannot use funds for personal expenses or purchases unrelated to the nonprofit. They cannot ask volunteers or employees to perform tasks of a personal nature that are outside of the organization's purview.
Duty of Loyalty refers to acting in the organization's best interest. Members must focus on transactions and activities that push the nonprofit's mission forward. They must disclose any conflicts of interest. They must also promise to make decisions in the best interest of the organization and not the individual.
Finally, the Duty of Obedience refers to the board members' responsibility to obey the law. Members must act to ensure the organization operates within the law, which includes its bylaws.
The Fundamental Legal Duties
Taking the role of a board member for a nonprofit is intimidating. The terminology and legal responsibilities alone carry various responsibilities. You always want to take a board member position seriously, but you also want to make the decision and take advantage of a potential opportunity.
You can simplify the fundamental legal duties of being a nonprofit board member. Ultimately, a board member must put the nonprofit's interest before self-interest. That's it, in a nutshell.
As a volunteer board member, you are taking a position as an advocate for the organization. You are swearing to protect the nonprofit's interest before the interest of any individual, including yourself.
Accepting the offer for a board member position is flattering, but it is not a decision to take lightly. Board member roles and responsibilities are significant and require commitment. As a member, you represent the organization's future, and that role can feel overwhelming. If you need help understanding the role or want professional unbiased advice, you can contact the CVO team.