One of the strongest supports for nonprofits is the organization’s board of directors. There are several ways to view the board and the most common ones are either from the perspective of the professional staff or from the vantage point of the board itself. Often both the staff and the members of the board will raise questions about the role of the board. The most common queries focus on whether the board is really committed to the programs of the agency, on one hand, or whether it is too involved in the workings of the organization, on the other hand.

These questions often arise when there is a lack of clarity of the role of the board and this then leads to a misunderstanding of the expectations as to what the board should be doing and how it is focusing its efforts. First and foremost boards of directors are responsible for the overall governance of the organization. Additionally, they have fiduciary responsibility for the financial aspects as related to income, expenses, assets and liabilities. The major issue is how it carries out its responsibilities so that it strengthens the nonprofit and works to ensure its ability to sustain itself in difficult economic times.

There are several very important ingredients to a well functioning and successful board. One is the importance of the professional – lay leadership partnership and the support the executive director or chief executive officer (CEO) provides to the board chair or president. The team work between these two key players is very important and the clarity they have as to their respective roles. When the CEO works to empower the chair of the board and strives to enhance the board then the organization benefits from strong support, especially in the area of resource development.

The partnership between these two key leaders can provide the foundation for focusing the board in its efforts to develop strong support for the nonprofit not only in securing its financial base but also in a number of other areas. These include the agency’s standing in the community; the quality of the service it provides; and the plans for future development among others.

Most important is the way they build a strong functioning board together. This as well as some of the “pitfalls” to avoid in building a strong board of directors, will be discussed in future postings.

Stephen G. Donshik, D.S.W. is a lecturer at Hebrew University’s International Leadership and Philanthropy Program and has a private consulting firm focused on strengthening non-profit organizations and their leadership for tomorrow. Stephen is a regular contributor to eJewish Philanthropy.