When it comes to strategic leadership, the Board of Directors sets the tone for your organization’s success. There are nine primary responsibilities of the board, including setting direction, making strategy and policy decisions, overseeing organizational performance, and providing accountability for the Executive Director.

Two people shake hands. Above the image concepts are displayed, including learning, experience, ability, growth, training, competence, knowledge, and skills.

Your board exists to complete the following work:

  •  Shape the mission and strategic direction: Identify the biggest priorities for the organization and ensure they are aligned with the mission.
  • Engage in strategic planning and policy decisions: Realize the broad strategic direction and set policy decisions around it.
  • Select, evaluate, and develop the Executive Director: Recruit the Executive Director, assess her performance, and—most importantly—help her to build skills that support the work of the organization.
  • Ensure adequate financial resources: Monitor the financial performance of the organization and support fundraising and resource development.
  • Provide expertise for and access to organizational needs: Help the organization to deepen and broaden its network and community connections.
  • Build reputation: Serve as brand ambassadors for the nonprofit and help to enhance the reputation of the organization in the community.
  • Oversee financial performance and risk management: Confirm that finances are on par, ensure that actuals are tracking to budget, and mitigate any financial risk the organization is experiencing.
  • Monitor performance and assure accountability: Regularly evaluate the Executive Director’s performance as he leads the organization.
  • Improve Board performance: Prioritize professional development and performance, ensure achievement of the above responsibilities, and focus on improvement where needed.

During a recent webinar, I asked 40 nonprofit leaders, “What does your board do really well?” Seventy-one percent of respondents cited providing expertise and access for organizational needs as the responsibility their board performs best, followed by overseeing financial performance and risk management at 60 percent. Shaping the strategic direction and engaging in strategic planning and policy decisions were tied for the next choice of 29 percent of respondents, which supports findings from BoardSource’s bi-annual study, Leading With Intent.

I also asked, “What does your board need to improve upon?” Seventy-one percent of respondents choose ensuring financial resources as the number one area for improvement by their board, followed by improving board performance at 67 percent. These findings are not surprising, as many Executive Directors struggle to get buy in from their board members to raise funds, serve as ambassadors in the community, or analyze their own performance over time.

Beyond the work that the board accomplishes, it is critical to look at how a board operates. The people, culture, decision making processes, and structures are just as important as the roles and responsibilities. While it’s simple to determine which of the above responsibilities your board needs to work on, it can be challenging to get your board to improve its performance.

For more information about the primary responsibilities of a Board of Directors, check out the complete webinar, The Context of Innovative Board Leadership. If your board requires outside support to accomplish these responsibilities and improve its performance, we can help. Contact us today to learn more.