Over the years that Volunteer Marlborough has been operating, we've delivered many workshops to boards of trustees about their roles, responsibilities, how to manage meetings, and financial oversight. From the interactions we have had with boards of every size and purpose, to the workshops we have run as professional development, we have learned some of the signs that tell us whether a board is operating successfully ... or not.
Large or small, new members or experienced, we know a board is operating well if board members:
Know their worth - It's important that board members know exactly what skills, experience, and strengths they bring to the table. This way they can make meaningful contributions to discussions and decisions. If there are members around the table who aren't contributing to the discussion, it might be because they're not sure what they can add. This is a good indication that recruitment and onboarding of new board members can be improved.
Know their duties - Board members have a legal duty of care to uphold. Yet the legal obligations are often some of the most frequently unknown or misunderstood. Not upholding these duties and legal responsibilities can result in personal liability to board members, cause dysfunction at board meetings, create conflicts of interest, and ultimately cause irreparable harm to the organisation.
Know their priorities - Boards of trustees are responsible for setting the strategic direction for the organisation and outlining that direction in the strategic plan. That plan details the goals of the organisation for the next 3+ years and sets the priorities for the work of the organisation staff, volunteers, and committees as well as the budget going forward.
Know their finances - Board members are ultimately responsible for the financial health of the organisation. It is important that all board members, not just the Treasurer, understand the financial statements and ensure that the budget reflects the priorities that are set out in the strategic plan. Funders, donors, staff, and even the community rely on the board to oversee the funds that the organisation is granted and use them wisely to achieve what they've said they would.
Know their boundaries - While board members should be passionate about the organisation and the work that is done, it is important that everyone remembers that the board has a role that is quite distinct from the staff and volunteers who provide programmes and services. Best practice is that board members remain on the governance side of the line, setting direction and providing oversight - they state what should be done. Then, on the management side of things, the staff determine how to do it. A great way to remember this is to think of the board having eyes on, but fingers out of the operations.
Are you seeing these signs on your board? Is your board operating successfully?
If not, we can help! We offer workshops and resources, and will soon be involved with a governance mentoring programme.