TGB’s People and Performance Manager Susan Treglown says business people should know what they’re in for, before accepting a Board member position.
Serving as a Board member can be one of the most challenging and rewarding volunteer assignments. While appointment or election to a Board is an honour, Board members have important legal and fiduciary responsibilities that require a commitment of time, skill, and resources.
Ask questions about the organisation’s programs
Before joining a Board, it is important to understand what the organisation does and how it goes about its business. If you don’t yet have enough information, see if you can visit the organisation to observe what they do. It is also important to find out if the organisation has a strategic plan that is reviewed and evaluated on a regular basis.
Ask questions about the organisation’s financial status
A prospective Board member should assess the financial condition of the organisation and find out what role the Board has in endorsing the annual budget. Also ask how regularly Board members receive financial reports.
Ask questions about the organisation’s clients or members
Investigate who the organisation serves and try to assess whether the organisation’s clients or members are satisfied.
It is important to identify any potential conflicts between the interests of your current employer and the interests of the organisation you are considering joining at Board level.
Ask questions about the structure of the Board
Find out how the board is structured, if there descriptions of the responsibilities of the Board as a whole and of individual Board members, and are there descriptions of Board committee functions and responsibilities?
Who are the other Board members? It is important for the organisation to have a system of checks and balances to prevent conflicts of interest between Board members and the organisation.
Gain an understanding of the organisation’s insurance policy and if it has directors and officers liability coverage.
Ask questions about individual Board members’ responsibilities
Different Boards require varying levels of commitment. It is highly recommended to find out the ways that the organisation believes you can contribute as a Board member, and how much time will be required for meetings, special events and the Board’s role in fundraising.
Consider how committee assignments are made and what orientation will be received to the organisation and to the responsibilities of Board service. Some organisations also provide opportunities for Board development and education, which can be beneficial.
Ask questions about the Board’s relationship to the staff
Find out if the Board is satisfied with the performance of the executive staff, and try to gain an understanding about how Board members and senior staff typically work with each other.
Evaluate your interest in serving on the Board
Once you are satisfied with the information you have received, evaluate your own interest in serving on the Board. Consider:
• Are you committed to the purpose of the organisation?
• Can you contribute the time necessary to be an effective Board member?
• Can you place the organisation’s purposes and interests above your own professional and personal interests when making decisions as a Board member?
Background information can help provide a useful overview of the organisation, the Board’s work, and the responsibilities of Board members. This information can be gained from:
• the organisation’s annual report
• the most recent audited financial statement
• any long-range strategic plan and financial plan
• a list of current board members, titles, and their affiliations
• a description of board members’ responsibilities
• a board structure chart
• a staff structure chart
• the organisation’s newsletter, brochure, or other publications
• newspaper or magazine articles about the organisation
At Tindall Gask Bentley we encourage our lawyers to join Boards, however it is important that they are aware of their responsibilities and also the responsibilities of the organisation. Having a thorough understanding of what to expect ensures there will be no unwanted surprises or conflicts.