Clarity regarding board roles, responsibilities, and expectations is a must

Imagine arriving at a new job at a new company and being shown to an empty office where there is an orientation manual
on the desk. Your boss stops by to say, “Glad you are on board. See you at the next staff meeting.” And that
is it. It is up to you to figure out what to do and determine what is expected.

While we would never do that to a new employee, the way we bring members onto boards is often not much different than
that. If the new board member is lucky, he or she will get a brief orientation before the first board meeting, but
after that we hope they will eventually “figure it out” and get into the flow
of being a board member.

Even if your board handles the orientation of new members better than what I’ve described, are you sure that you are doing
a good job of helping board members understand their roles and responsibilities?
Are you sure they are clear about what is expected of them (and of all board

It is easy to assume that all or most of your colleagues on the board understand what is expected of them, but if you
give your board this basic quiz, I’m willing to bet you’ll see a range of
responses that will surprise you:

What is our expectation for board members regarding our individual financial support
for the organization?

What are our attendance expectations for board meetings?

What are our expectations for board members regarding participation in fund raising
efforts and events?

What do we expect of board members when it comes to nominating and recruiting board

What expectation do we have for board members when it comes to serving on a
committee or committees?

What is the board’s role regarding the management and evaluation of staff?

What do we expect of board members regarding marketing and communication?

There are many more questions that could
be added to this quiz, but I suspect you can see how valuable it would be to
have your board consider them together.

Be forewarned, however, that clarifying and agreeing on expectations can also result in some board members deciding to
resign. One organization with which I worked was facing some stark financial
realities and the realization that their previously disengaged board was going
to need to become highly engaged (weekly committee meetings, monthly board
meetings, fund raising calls, etc.). Their survival depended upon it. While
most rose to the occasion, one board member quietly faded away and two others
resigned in the weeks that followed the development of their shared
expectations document. As disappointing as it was to lose board members during a time of crisis, it would have been
even more disappointing to have board members on the roster who were unable to
live-up to the expectations that were shared by the rest of the board members.
It also opened seats on the board to recruit new board members who could bring
energy and much needed skills to the organization needed during a challenging

Even if you have a document that outlines the roles, responsibilities, and expectations of board members, inconsistency
in how board members are recruited and oriented means that the expectations
that seem clear to you have been interpreted very differently by someone else. Take
the time to review these expectations together. It will be most helpful to your
new board members, but it will also prove helpful to the entire board.

For more information about this or other board governance issues, contact Jeff
Wahlstrom at (207) 992-4407 or at [email protected]