Here are some helpful guidelines to navigate your responsibilities — as well as to help you understand how your role interacts with that of the executive director (superintendent, principal) and management organization.

Hopefully your board member welcome packet has prepared you for your new role, but here are some helpful guidelines to navigate your responsibilities—as well as to help you understand how your role interacts with that of the executive director (superintendent, principal) and management organization.

First, what are your legal responsibilities? According to the Association of Governing Boards, “Under state statutory and common law, officers and board members are fiduciaries and must act in accordance with the fiduciary duties of care, loyalty, and obedience.” These involve acting in good faith and in the best interests of the stated purposes of the organization. The fiduciary must not act out of self-interest.

“If we look at it simplistically, the board makes the decisions and management carries them out,” explains BoardEffect. “Due to the litigious nature of our society, boards are taking a stronger interest in day-to-day management activities because of the ensuing impact on its fiduciary responsibilities. Boards need to be informed of how the organization is being managed to protect its legal responsibilities, but the board role should not cross over into performing management duties.”

In this helpful infographic, BoardSource lists ten additional basic responsibilities of board members and how boards rate themselves on these responsibilities.

According to Leading with Intent 2017, boards, in general, are doing well with more fundamental board responsibilities — understanding the organization’s mission and providing financial oversight. Conversely, they struggle most with external responsibilities, including fundraising, advocacy, and community-building and outreach. This lack of understanding of what is — and is not — a part of the board’s essential roles can lead to a whole host of dysfunctions, such as micromanagement, rogue decision-making, lack of engagement, and more. BoardSource

Experts on divisions of responsibility between board and staff commonly assign governance-type activities to the board and management-type activities to staff. Here is a helpful document (PDF) from NonprofitNetwork on Dividing Duties Between Board and Staff. A key takeaway: “It is not always easy or even possible to draw a clear line between governance and management. The board’s duties are colored by its monitoring role. The executive director, principal or superintendent, on the other hand, alone is responsible for making things happen with the help of the rest of the management staff.”

According to BoardEffect, “Boards function best when they focus on higher-level, future-oriented issues; but there are times that they need to get more intrinsically involved. When the board sees negative results, it’s a red flag to delve deeper into management issues to get the organization back on track in order to fulfill their duties to shareholders and stakeholders.”

This article is published by Yvonne Adkins of Adkins & Company, a Kentucky-based consulting group whose mission is to position charter schools for success by providing boards, operators and authorizers with access to high quality services and expertise.

Yvonne Adkins