Governing bodies are known by a variety of names including boards, committees, councils, trusts, etc. Likewise, the term "board members" can refer to those known as directors, committee members, councillors or trustees. In practice, and legally, they are the same thing.
Not-for-profit board members are appointed or elected to help steer their community group towards its mission. They must work individually and collectively in that task.
In most not-for-profit organisations, the question of who the board members are will be relatively clear-cut. However, legally speaking the question of whether or not one is a board member is not altogether simple. It depends largely on the facts of each individual case. As a rough guide, the law may view a board member as one of the following people:
You do not usually have to have any specific qualifications to be a board member. However, the best boards are those that have a good mix of a large range of skills. For this reason, many boards will be on the look-out for people with certain capabilities; they may be looking for someone with financial skills, for example, or fundraising skills, or good community connections, or someone who is media savvy.
Some boards will also reserve places for people with particular professional qualifications – a hospital board, for example, may hold one or several positions for people with medical qualifications.
All board members, regardless of qualifications, need to be "eligible"
in the eyes of the law to hold that position. An eligible person
Board members are charged with working collectively to act as the "mind" of the community group they serve. In doing so, they must work together to:
In practice, this may involve, among a plethora of other tasks:
Aside from this, exactly what a board member does will largely depend on the type of group and the type of board they are serving. In very small groups with an all-volunteer workforce a board member may be required to do anything and everything from sweeping the floor and answering the phones to speaking to the media on the group's behalf and setting the budget. In short, board members for these groups carry out both administrative and governance tasks.
Board members serving larger community groups with a few paid staff members will have a different role, moving away from administration and concentrating on governance. In these organisations, the board member's role is to work with the board as a whole to oversee and steer the community group.
In very large not-for-profit organisations, board members often become even more removed from the day-to-day operations, working almost entirely from papers prepared by staff.
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