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nonprofit board members discussing duties

In wise words attributed to Voltaire (and the Spider-Man comic book), “With great power, comes great responsibility.” Never have these words been more true than when it comes to serving on a nonprofit’s board of directors. Being asked or elected to serve on a board can be a huge honor, but it also comes with great legal and fiscal responsibilities.

Legal Duties

Let’s start with three of the major legal duties:

  • Duty of care: This means that board members are expected to actively participate in making decisions, resolving issues, and participate in planning.
  • Duty of loyalty: Board members must put the interests of the nonprofit ahead of their own personal and professional interests. This means that even merely potential conflicts of interest must be studiously avoided. (Your nonprofit MUST have a Conflict of Interest Policy that each board member signs.)
  • Duty of obedience: Compliance with all local, state, and federal regulations and laws applicable to the nonprofit is an essential responsibility for board members.

Additionally, these three major legal duties ensure the organization is committed and stays true to its stated mission.

 

nonprofit board room

Financial Duties

Board members must act as fiduciaries by closely overseeing the nonprofit’s finances. Board members are tasked with reviewing financial reports (i.e. donations received and expenses), evaluating policies (such as a cash handling policy or a gift acceptance policy), and approving budgets. They must also take into account the resource needs of the organization, in addition to accountability to donors, parties served, and the general public.

Whether you’re donating your time and serving on a nonprofit board, or running a nonprofit and are training the board (sometimes called “managing up,” and not an easy thing to do), it’s important the aforementioned duties are fully explained and understood by all parties.

Let me suggest two good and very practical ideas. First, consider providing a board orientation, once a year, where the entire meeting is devoted to an outsider explaining and discussing with the board the full extent of its legal and fiscal duties. Second, consider drafting and distributing a “job description,” not only for your employees, but also for your board members. Put in writing what you expect of the board, including the legal protection they must offer.


Working with nonprofit leaders is one of my passions and a critical part of my main mission to promote and maximize charitable giving in Iowa. If you’re on the board of, or work for a nonprofit that is facing challenges, or if you simply want to be prepared to avoid challenges, don’t hesitate to reach out. 

I can be contacted at anytime by phone (515-371-6077) or email to schedule a free consultation.

fiduciary

A fiduciary role is one of the highest, strongest relationships between people. It is a role involving the highest care and the greatest importance. The people you choose to fulfill these roles should be carefully considered; they should be those whom you have the utmost confidence in.

Examples of common fiduciary roles include the executor of your will, trustees of your trusts, guardianships of your children, and agents for your financial and healthcare power of attorney. Other fiduciary roles include attorney, accountant, banker and/or credit union manager.

Often times, people choose corporate executors to remove some of the liability and risk, since corporate executors are familiar with the estate planning process. A corporate executor is going to know the drill. With a corporate executor, you have a true estate planning professional that knows and understands

If you DO choose to name a private individual to a fiduciary role, you need to ensure they are trustworthy, organized, and reliable.

The American Bar Association has comprehensively defined the different fiduciary duties as:

  • Duty of care;
  • Duty of loyalty;
  • Duty to account;
  • Duty of confidentiality;
  • Duty of full disclosure;
  • Duty to act fairly; and
  • Duty of good faith and fair dealing.

Understanding fiduciary duties and selecting the right individuals will help you feel content, secure and satisfied with your estate plan.

Have questions? Need more information?

I would love to discuss your estate plan with you. You can contact me by email at Gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com or give me a call at 515-371-6077. Don’t have an estate plan? The best place to start is the Estate Plan Questionnaire.