Board of Directors: Duties & Purpose

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Chapter I. Purpose of the Board of Directors

In Susan Scribner’s book, Boards from Hell, Scribner describes a variety of dysfunctional boards. Among others, she suggests these types of boards that you would never want to participate in:

  • Phantom Boards (Missing in Action).
  • Tennessee Fainting Goats Boards (I Can’t)
  • Bordellos (Self-Serving Members)
  • Mutant Ninja Board Members (Bad Apples)
  • Bored Boards (Uninvolved, Uninformed) The former president of Columbia International University, Robertson McQuilkin, reportedly coined the term “rubberstamping” for this type of under-involved board members.

Perhaps Scribner could have also suggested “Interfering Mother-in-Law Board” Members (Acting as Bosses Outside Board Meetings). McQuilkin reportedly calls this type of interference by board members, "rubbernecking", and accrediting agencies do not like to see it.

Many times, a dysfunctional board results from misunderstandings of the purposes of a board. A board should primarily be concerned with furthering the fulfillment of the institutional mission statement in six areas:

  1. securing, evaluating and maintaining an effective administration (primarily selecting, evaluating and assisting the president – but, if necessary, dismissing him or her)
  2. developing and maintaining effective policies and procedures (including approving all handbooks, catalogues, programs, the budget, and promotional materials)
  3. raising friends and funds for the school and using their influence to cultivate multiple streams of revenue
  4. Ensuring that funds are managed appropriately
  5. Strategic planning (i.e., visioning and planning for a future that will remain within the bounds of the institutional mission)
  6. Recruiting and orienting new board members, learning to operate as a more effective board, and assessing both the board and its individual members

In Ten Basic Responsibilities of Nonprofit Boards, Richard Ingram suggests that the short description of a board’s responsibilities are to govern, implement, and volunteer.

govern, implement, and volunteer

govern, implement, and volunteer

Governance describes the board’s role in setting policy. The board as a whole makes decisions and sets policies. Individual board members do not govern; they interact with their fellow members to come to a decision. Governing is only occurring during meetings with proper notice and enough members to constitute a quorum.

Implementation describes a role for board members that can occur outside of meetings. Decisions are made in meetings, but some decisions may require action beyond the meeting. In many cases, that implementation is the responsibility of the president and his or her staff. In some cases, the board may authorize one or more members to implement a decision (e.g. choose a contractor for a planned improvement, contact a foundation, meet with a member of the city council or a denominational leader). Perhaps a report will be submitted to the board on the results of the action taken.

Volunteerism also describes a role for board members that can occur outside of meetings. Board members are normally expected to volunteer beyond attendance at meetings. Many times they assist in an area of their special expertise (e.g. a lawyer may look over contracts, a banker may interview accounting firms). It is also common for board members to assist the president or development officer in building relationships with influential friends.

Note that the board’s role differs from the administrative role. The board sets policy, and then gives the president and his or her staff the freedom to determine the details of implementation. A board develops or approves the school’s initial mission statement. From that point on, the mission statement serves as a plumb line to measure proposed goals or initiatives.

A. Guardians of the Mission

Perhaps the chief purpose of the board is to safeguard the accomplishment of the mission and goals of the school. The school’s mission statement is a compass, a map, a guidance system. It is our understanding of God’s purpose for our school. A donor may approach our school to offer a significant amount of money if the school would engage in a certain project or initiate a new degree program. The first question the board should ask is not, “Will this bring our school more money, students, and prestige?” The first question is whether the proposal fits with our understanding of God’s purpose for us (i.e., our mission statement).

A school’s mission statement must remain in focus during board meetings. The decisions should be made in the context of that mission. Therefore, accrediting agencies expect schools to widely publicize their mission. Some schools recite or explain their mission statement (and possibly goals) at every meeting. Other schools produce a banner or attractive sign with the mission statement and display it at every board meeting. A school could place their mission statement in the margin of every page of the notes used at a board meeting. How will your board keep the mission in focus?

The mission statement is further elaborated upon by its goals (and possibly by more specific – and measurable – objectives). We need to have two types of goals: student learning outcomes goals and institutional effectiveness (administrative) goals. Outcomes are the changes we intend to occur in students as a result of studying with us. Outcomes goals are primarily achieved through required courses, though they can also be achieved through student selection, chapel, ministry assignments, …even housing (e.g., assigning missions students to room with foreign students studying English as a second language). Achieving outcomes goals in our students should cause us to be achieving our mission.

The administrative goals are used to assess the resources and activities the school intends to provide. Each administrative department (e.g., administration, business, development, student life, academics) will have goals and objectives (e.g., number of reference hours per week by a qualified librarian, amount of money we expect to be raised through donations, how often required courses will be offered, how students will be given academic counseling before registration, how quickly bills will be paid, enrollment patterns, board performance and satisfaction, how we are perceived by our community or denomination). Every administrative department needs to have its own goals so that the mission can be fulfilled.

How can we assure that our school stays on target in relation to achieving our mission, goals, and objectives? To assist us, the administration (i.e., director of institutional research) produces an annual institutional research report. This is required by accrediting agencies. A detailed plan is developed for how each objective, goal, and component of the mission statement is to be measured. This research plan includes the instruments to be used (e.g., a survey, focus groups), persons responsible for administering the instruments and analyzing the responses, populations to be measured, schedule for administering instruments, and acceptable results. Not every instrument will be scheduled or goal will be measured every year. Instead, a repeating cycle will be scheduled so that all goals are measured within a specified amount of time (e.g., three years, five years). An annual report will be produced to show achievement of the goals scheduled for that year. This report will show how strongly our school is achieving specified goals. Strengths and weakness will be identified (and possibly opportunities or threats to complete a “SWOT analysis”). The report will also include suggestions for change (which may be inserted into an annually updated five-year plan). So, a complete cycle of institutional research will be a complete report on how well the school has been achieving its mission. The board will want to pay close attention to these annual reports so that it can help safeguard the achievement of the school’s mission and goals.

This material comes from chapter one of our Board of Directors Workbook. Later, this workbook will be for sale in our online store at www.accreditation101.com. However, listeners in January and perhaps February 2010 can have access to this board training resource for free. We are currently posting chapters online for your review and comments. Please give us feedback so we can improve this book. Find it on the accreditation 101 podcast page.

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