Board members wear three hats within an organization-a legal hat, an ambassador hat and a volunteer hat. Their role while wearing each of these hats is very different and often misunderstood.
Legal Hat – When wearing the legal hat, the board member needs to know that this is the role assigned to each individual board member by the IRS. Yes, the IRS holds board members responsible for the organization. Within the legal hat, there are three specific responsibilities.
Duty of Care – Making the best decisions for the organization. This duty necessitates that you actively participate in the work of the board and make decisions using your best judgment. It also requires you to ask questions when you need more information to make decisions.
Duty of Loyalty – Acting in the best interest for the organization. Quite often board members are involved in other organizations or have their own businesses. When serving on the board, and making decisions on behalf of the organization, the board member needs to always look at what is in the best interest of the organization…putting aside other personal and business interests.
Duty of Obedience – Staying true to the mission of the organization. This duty also requires that the board ensures that the organization is following all applicable and relevant, local, state and federal laws as well as the written policies of the organization.
When putting on the ambassador hat, board members need to know that they are representing the organization. They are the face of the XYZ Organization—this means that their actions, both positive and negative, can affect the public’s view of the organization. Thus, choose board members who operate with integrity.
Depending on the type of the organization, there may be opportunities for volunteering. Board members should be encouraged to volunteer with the understanding that when doing so they are the same as any other volunteer. In other words, there are no special perks because they are a board member, they report to staff and take direction in the same way others do.
Unfortunately, way too many board members do not understand the roles and responsibilities of board service. Educating the board can be very helpful to ensure quality board service.
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