By Michele Colopy
Board Members Roles and Responsibilities
Supporting the Mission and growing the Bee Club.
There are plentiful resources available for Board members to learn how to be good Board members. Your Secretary of State or Attorney General, where you must register and submit your bee club’s annual reports, has guides for Nonprofit Board members. These Guides for Board members are readable, and advise your group how to be responsible and legal. “The responsibilities center on paying attention, being good stewards, and acting in the best interest of the organization. Board members are guardians of the trust, serving on behalf of the community, regardless of personal interests. These duties apply whether or not the group is formally incorporated. They apply whenever an organization presents itself to the public as honoring or advancing a charitable cause. Trustees have the same obligations to their organization whether the group’s budget is $100 or $100 million.”1
“Charities are required by law to have board members to ensure integrity and accountability in their governance.”2 Today’s beekeeping associations contain a diverse skill level within its membership, and members need to be appreciated, respected, and asked to lend their skills, experience, and knowledge to sustain and improve the bee club. If we accept the responsibility of being a Board member of an organization, we agree to working with others to promote, protect, and provide for the organization. No matter a fellow Board members’ age, gender, life/work/beekeeping experience, or race, beekeeping association Board members must treat each other with the respect you wish to receive. How you treat your fellow Board members reflects your value of the organization. “Board members bring new ideas into organizations, provide oversight and guidance on mission and objectives, and help a successful group remain relevant and healthy. The lack of an active and engaged board can doom the future of a nonprofit organization.”3
“Organizations seek community members to serve in this capacity for several reasons, including:
- Honoring an individual’s previous volunteer services or commitment to those the charity serves.
- Adding credibility to the board through an individual’s management and business skills.
- Strengthening an organization through an individual’s significant contacts.
- Increasing the variety and level of skills on the board.”4
“Directors and board members should:
- Prepare for board meetings by reading and reviewing reports, minutes, and other materials distributed for the meeting.
- Attend board and committee meetings and record all actions taken or decisions made.
- Ask questions and obtain the information necessary to make informed decisions.
- Review the performance of the charity’s executive director or chief executive officer.
- Exercise independent judgment rather than blindly follow the staff’s requests.
- Oversee the executive director and ensure that the charity’s purposes are fulfilled efficiently and follow sound business standards.”5
Most importantly, when managing public funds or member funds, bee club board members must be responsible stewards of the organization’s funds. “Donors and the public place their trust in board members, and regulators are watching. Even if funds are not being diverted from a charity, the public can lose faith in an organization that doesn’t appear accountable.”6
“Duties of board members include:
- Duty of care – This involves being active in the organization’s activities and understanding its mission.
- Duty of loyalty – Board members must acknowledge that the interest of the charity and its work must be the top priority. Charitable boards should develop and follow conflict of interest policies to avoid transactions that unfairly enrich the charity’s leaders.
- Duty to manage accounts – A charity must be fiscally accountable. Board members must track budget data and establish and monitor internal controls.
- Duty of compliance – Charities have important legal obligations. Board members must ensure that their charity follows registration requirements, solicitation laws and tax provisions.” 7
“Failure to follow through on the legal duties of board membership can have devastating consequences for a charitable organization. There also may be civil or criminal penalties levied against board members who shirk their responsibilities, particularly in situations in which they have benefitted from their action or inaction.”8
“Board members who know the facts, analyze the probable result of their actions, exercise sound judgment, and keep reasonable records fulfill their duty of care. Those who are regularly absent from meetings, who are inactive, or who fail to conduct adequate research prior to making decisions do not.”9
Most national nonprofit organizations require “Standards for Excellence” from their affiliate groups. The Ohio Association of Nonprofit Organizations (OANO) offers a certification program to nonprofits, for a fee, which covers eight areas of nonprofit operations:
- Mission and Program
- Governing Board
- Conflict of Interest
- Human Resources
- Financial and Legal Accountability
- Public Accountability
- Public Policy and Public Affairs
“With 58 performance Standards covering a broad range of best practices under each of these operational areas, such as how often an organizations’ board of directors should meet, what subjects should be covered in personnel policies, how often financial statements should be prepared, etc.”10 these are helpful standards to ensure a quality, reputable organization. Whether you have a state organization that provides guidelines for nonprofit standards or national groups such as the Standards for Excellence Institute (https://standardsforexcellence.org/home-2/code/), The National Council of Nonprofits (https://www.councilofnonprofits.org/tools-resources/principles-and-practices), or The Independent Sector (https://www.independentsector.org/compendium_of_standards), information is available and accessible to protect, guide, and advise Board members.
Now that you have Board members how do you keep them, and maintain a strong, educated, mission-focused Board? The Ohio Attorney General in their “Guide for Charity Board Members” advises the following to keep a board strong:
- “Ensure diversity in board membership
- Members should look for ways to recruit community representatives who have an interest in the charity’s mission and represent diverse viewpoints or skill sets.
- Set term limits
- Consider term limits and rotation off the board or to other assignments as a means of avoiding stagnation, tunnel vision, and the perception that the board is merely an insiders’ club.
- Set a schedule to review operations
- Many groups orient new board members by reviewing governing documents, budgets, programs, and policies. Some do annual assessments of how the board is operating and whether the group is adequately addressing all necessary issues.
- Develop a strategic plan
- Boards may elect to engage in strategic planning to analyze the organization’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. This analysis often can uncover areas for improvement and help focus the board’s policy-setting responsibilities.”11
To find resources in your state for Board members begin with your Secretary of State or Attorney General for Board member webinars, guides, and other instructional materials, as well as to register your nonprofit. Boards do not want to commit any of the 15 governance mistakes of Boards such as Avoiding The Hard Questions, Insufficient Conflict Management, Lack of Awareness of Laws Governing Tax-Exempts, Operating with Outdated, Inconsistent Governing Documents, Airing Disagreements Outside the Boardroom, and Failing to Educate and Motivate Board Members.12 (see the full list at http://charitylawyerblog.com/2009/10/05/top-15-non-profit-board-governance-mistakes-from-a-legal-perspective/ ).
It is the responsibility of Board members to protect the organization, fulfill its mission, and represent the organization (and therefore all of its members) to the best of their ability. This is their duty of care, management, loyalty, and compliance.
Supporting the Mission and Growing The Bee Club
The mission of a nonprofit guides the organization and the Board of Directors in the goals, programs, and activities of the group. Generally, beekeeping associations are member organizations which support educational activities for its members and the public relevant to honey bees and beekeeping. As a membership nonprofit with the broad mission of education and support of beekeeping, most nonprofit beekeeping associations will not advocate for one style of beekeeping management, one race of honey bees, one method of treatment(s) for pests and pathogens, one type of harvested honey, etc. When a nonprofit is created for specific breeds, care and management type, and specific type(s) of end products, those are a different IRS classification: 501(c)(6) for Business Leagues as opposed to 501(c)(5) for Agricultural and Horticultural Associations, or even a 501(c)(7) for Social and Recreational Clubs. Your mission defines your IRS classification.
The Foundation Center defines the mission statement as providing “an overview of the group’s plans to realize that vision by identifying the service areas, target audience, and values and goals of the organization.”13 The mission statement establishes “the long-term direction that guides every aspect of an organization’s daily operations.”14 The goal of the Board of Directors is to work toward fulfilling the mission. Ron Meshanko of Ecumenical Resource Consultants in Washington, DC advises “A Mission Statement should be a one-sentence, clear, concise statement that says who the agency is (the name, that it is a nonprofit, and what type of agency it is), what it does, for whom and where. Period.”15 Mission statements are used in marketing, grant writing, volunteer recruitment, and can quickly convey to anyone what your organization represents.
Once the mission is set, goals and objectives may change based on current situations. Educating beekeepers in 1960 conveyed the honey bee health issues of 1960. Educating beekeepers post Varroa conveyed the honey bee health issues of the 1990s. Each beekeeping organization, however, continued to fulfill its mission of “educating beekeepers.”
The mission of the beekeeping association is what governs the activities, programs, and actions of the group. Leadership of any nonprofit cannot insert their own personal political affiliation, faith, beekeeping management techniques/treatments, or preferred race of bees upon the association and its members. When a single leader or a few leaders rule the bee club for years, dictate to the membership a singular style of beekeeping management, hive treatments, and even products and equipment, they have violated the nonprofit’s mission.
Growing a beekeeping association will only occur with change, diversity, different ideas, and programs. Leaders must be open to growth (also known as change), and welcome it. Only through change of leaders, knowledge, and ideas will a beekeeping association have a full and vibrant life serving many generations of beekeepers.
William J. Moran, J.D., M.S.Ed. lists “12 Attributes of Great Nonprofit Leaders.” “No one has all of these traits, but they are something to aspire to as we admire the brave hardy souls who lead our nonprofits:
- Self Starter. Great executive directors are goal driven and possess a high degree of motivation and energy. They are “doers.” They have a record of productivity.
- Passion for the Organization’s Mission. They are “driven” by the importance of the organization’s mission.
- Ability to Accept and Motivate Others. They have the ability to attract and inspire others, including volunteer board members and staff. They are open to and accept many different types of people.
- They are “Servant Leaders”. They are more concerned about what they can “give” to others rather than what they are going to “get” from the organization.
- Deals Well with Conflict. They can handle adversity with grace. They do not take criticism personally. They keep a sense of perspective.
- Think Strategically, but Implement Tactically. They see the big picture but are able to implement plans effectively in “bite-size morsels” to move the organization forward.
- Financial Acumen. They understand finances. They know how to budget. They recognize both financial opportunities and threats.
- Fundraising Skills. They have knowledge and experience in fundraising techniques, including major gift fundraising.
- Ability to listen. They know how to actively receive input and listen to other viewpoints. They collaborate with others.
- Sound Judgment. They have the ability to sift through alternatives, deliberate, and then arrive at a sound decision.
- Persistence. They do not let obstacles stand in their way and can persevere through difficult times for the organization.
- Stamina. They have physical and emotional stamina. They are able to tolerate long days. They can carry on a full day of back-to-back meetings and still function at an acceptable level.”16
Integral to a quality, welcoming, long-lived nonprofit are those “Servant Leaders.” “They are more concerned about what they can “give” to others rather than what they are going to “get” from the organization.” Motivations vary for anyone who “runs for a leadership role.” However, those “leaders” who dictate to the membership a singular beekeeping management style (theirs), who “encourage” the club’s membership to buy only the leader’s beekeeping equipment or honey bees, and who use the nonprofit to secure non-taxable grant funds to provide them with funding for research or their own bee business start-up are only serving themselves. These leaders are not serving the beekeeping organization’s mission, or their fellow beekeepers. These leaders expect to be rewarded, and rationalize that any money the bee club gets should be theirs as they did all of the work. These self-serving leaders become problematic when their fellow Board members focus upon the mission, attempting to restore organizational ethics, thereby threatening the “control” of the “self-serving” leader.
Authors Deborah L. Rhode & Amanda K. Packel discussed Ethics and Nonprofits in the Stanford Social Innovation Review.
“Ethical challenges arise at all levels in all types of organizations – for-profit, nonprofit, and government – and involve a complex relationship between individual character and cultural influences. Some of these challenges can result in criminal violations or civil liability: fraud, misrepresentation, and misappropriation of assets fall into this category. More common ethical problems involve gray areas – activities that are on the fringes of fraud, or that involve conflicts of interest, misallocation of resources, or inadequate accountability and transparency.”17
“Research identifies four crucial factors that influence ethical conduct:
- Moral awareness: recognition that a situation raises ethical issues
- Moral decision making: determining what course of action is ethically sound
- Moral intent: identifying which values should take priority in the decision
- Moral action: following through on ethical decisions.”18
“People vary in their capacity for moral judgment – in their ability to recognize and analyze moral issues, and in the priority that they place on moral values. They also differ in their capacity for moral behavior – in their ability to cope with frustration and make good on their commitments.”19
Cognitive biases can compromise these ethical capacities. Those in leadership positions often have a high degree of confidence in their own judgment. That can readily lead to arrogance, overoptimism, and an escalation of commitment to choices that turn out to be wrong either factually or morally.19 As a result, people may ignore or suppress dissent, overestimate their ability to rectify adverse consequences, and cover up mistakes by denying, withholding, or even destroying information.20
“A related bias involves cognitive dissonance: People tend to suppress or reconstrue information that casts doubt on a prior belief or action. Such dynamics may lead people to discount or devalue evidence of the harms of their conduct or the extent of their own responsibility. In-group biases can also result in unconscious discrimination that leads to ostracism of unwelcome or inconvenient views. That, in turn, can generate perceptions of unfairness and encourage team loyalty at the expense of candid and socially responsible decision making.”21
A study highlighted by authors Rhode and Packel provides insight into large and small group dynamics be they nonprofit or corporate structures.
“Moral blinders are especially likely in contexts where people lack accountability for collective decision making. That is often true of boards of directors – members’ individual reputations rarely suffer, and insurance typically insulates them from personal liability. A well-known study by Scott Armstrong, a professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, illustrates the pathologies that too often play out in real life. The experiment asked 57 groups of executives and business students to assume the role of an imaginary pharmaceutical company’s board of directors. Each group received a fact pattern indicating that one of their company’s most profitable drugs was causing an estimated 14 to 22 “unnecessary” deaths a year. The drug would likely be banned by regulators because a competitor offered a safe medication with the same benefits at the same price. More than four-fifths of the boards decided to continue marketing the product and to take legal and political actions to prevent a ban. By contrast, when a different group of people with similar business backgrounds were asked for their personal views on the same hypothetical, 97 percent believed that continuing to market the drug was socially irresponsible”.22
Whether it is a nonprofit, volunteer setting, or a corporate workplace environment the ethical climate of the organization sets the tone for everyone in the organization. Volunteers, staff, and Board members “respond to moral cues from peers and leaders. Virtue begets virtue, and observing integrity in others promotes similar behavior.” “There are six areas in particular where ethical issues arise in the nonprofit sector: compensation; conflicts of interest; publications and solicitation; financial integrity; investment policies; and accountability and strategic management.”23
“Although no set of rules or organizational structures can guarantee ethical conduct, nonprofits can take three steps that will make it more likely.”24:
- Ensure Effective Codes of Conduct and Compliance Programs
- Promote Effective Financial Management
- Institutionalize an Ethical Culture
“In its National Nonprofit Ethics Survey, the Ethics Resource Center categorizes an organization as having a strong ethical culture when top management leads with integrity, supervisors reinforce ethical conduct, peers display a commitment to ethics, and the organization integrates its values in day-to-day decision making . . . No organizational mission statement or ceremonial platitudes can counter the impact of seeing leaders withhold crucial information, play favorites with promotion, stifle dissent, or pursue their own self-interest at the organization’s expense.”25
How can you as a nonprofit beekeeping association leader support the mission and your organization? Beekeeping Association leaders, and prospective leaders should be willing to ask uncomfortable questions: Not just “Is it legal?” but also “Is it fair?” “Is it honest?” “Does it advance societal interests or pose unreasonable risks?” and “How would it feel to defend the decision on the evening news?” Not only do leaders need to ask those questions of themselves, they also need to invite unwelcome answers from others. To counter self-serving biases and organizational pressures, people in positions of power should actively solicit diverse perspectives and dissenting views. Every leader’s internal moral compass needs to be checked against external reference points.26
1Guide for Charity Board Members, Ohio Attorney General,
7Resources for Nonprofit Board Members, Ohio Attorney General, http://www.ohioattorneygeneral.gov/Business/Services-for-Charities/Resources-for-Nonprofit-Board-Members
8Guide for Charity Board Members, Ohio Attorney General, http://www.ohioattorneygeneral.gov/Files/Publications-Files/Publications-for-Non-Profits/GuideforCharityBoardMembers.aspx
10Standards for Excellence: An Ethics and Accountability Code for the Nonprofit Sector, Ohio Association of Nonprofit Organizations, https://www.oano.org/standards-for-excellence/complete-standards/
11Guide for Charity Board Members, Ohio Attorney General, http://www.ohioattorneygeneral.gov/Files/Publications-Files/Publications-for-Non-Profits/GuideforCharityBoardMembers.aspx
12Top 15 Non-profit Board Governance Mistakes (From a Legal Perspective) Posted on October 5, 2009, Charity Lawyer, http://charitylawyerblog.com/2009/10/05/top-15-non-profit-board-governance-mistakes-from-a-legal-perspective/
13Establishing a Nonprofit Organization, http://foundationcenter.org/getstarted/tutorials/establish/statements.html
15What Should A Mission Statement Say? Ron Meshanko of Ecumenical Resource Consultants in Washington, DC, http://www.idealist.org/info/Nonprofits/Gov1
1612 Attributes of Great Nonprofit Leaders, William J. Moran, J.D., M.S.Ed., https://www.morancompany.com/great-nonprofit-leaders/
17Ethics and Nonprofits, Deborah L. Rhode & Amanda K. Packel Summer 2009, page 2, http://ssir.org/articles/entry/ethics_and_nonprofits
22Ibid, page 3
24Ibid, page 6
25Ibid, page 7
Michele Colopy is the Program Director for the Pollinator Stewardship Council. She holds a Master’s degree in Arts Administration/Nonprofit Management from The University of Akron, and has created, revitalized and held leadership roles in nonprofit organizations for 20 years.