What Information Should Board Members Have?

Board Café

What Information Should Board Members Have?

What do board members need to know? What do they want to know? What should they know? This month's issue takes on this topic-too often a source of conflict among board members as well as between board members and staff. And as the winter days get longer bit-by-bit, we also salute the millions (yes, millions!) of volunteer board members who, on third Thursdays and second Tuesdays across the country, act as safety nets and supporters of the organizations that are the heartbeats of our communities. We know it's February and we're running a little late on the January issue, but here it is! - Jan Masaoka




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A thought-provoking and rewarding read for the new year is Richard Chait, William Ryan, and Barbara E. Taylor's latest book on nonprofit boards, Governance As Leadership. Chait, et.al. Identify three distinct styles of work and thinking that boards should be engaged in: fiduciary, strategic and generative. $42 plus shipping and handling. This month's main course article


As board members, we often have a vague feeling that we should know more about the organizations we're serving, but we don't really know what to ask for. For one thing, we don't want to be deluged with tons of material that we know we won't be able to digest. Staff, too, are often dissatisfied with what information they give to us. A common complaint: "The board says they want to know more, but when we send them information they don't even read it!"

Here's a suggestion for what written documents the board should have. Some of this same information should be presented and discussed at board meetings.

Compliance, financial & legal oversight

  • Form 990 annually-review by the board president before submission, distribution to full board. Federal Form 990 is required for nonprofits with revenue of $25,000 or more per year. Board members should know that the form has been filed, and what it says to the public about the organization.
  • Audit, if the organization has one: Copy of full audit to board president, treasurer, and Finance Committee. Board members are aware they can ask for full copy.
  • Monthly or quarterly financial statements, showing year-to-date income and expenses compared to budget, to the Finance Committee and the full board. Organizations will choose their own appropriate set.
  • Salaries, benefits and perks for the top staff (such as the top five paid staff or the director-level staff), and a salary rate chart showing the range of salaries for each category of employee-annually.
  • Directors & Officers Liability Insurance, if the organization purchases it. Proof of purchase to whole board annually.
  • In executive session, documents related to legal actions, lawsuits, or settlements

Strategic information

  • Occasional articles about the "industry"-whether childcare, wetlands management or civil rights-articles that talk about trends in funding streams, changes in approach that are moving into the field, including articles that praise competitors/colleagues in the field.
  • Articles (from journals or written internally) about the funding and political environment in which the organization works
  • Periodic reports on program work, statistics, and impact
  • Annual updates on clients/patrons/members: who used our services or facilities? To what degree did we reach our intended audiences?

Information that supports board cohesion and leadership

  • Brief bios about board members, and updates on their professional accomplishments, personal news, and other volunteer activities
  • When reporting on an item, show specific ways that board members can help (if the item is a city council hearing, asking board members to attend and speak; if the item is a large donation, asking board members who know the donor to make a thank-you phone call).
  • Appreciation for individual board membersAppreciation for the board as a whole in its governance work (such as evaluation of the executive director)

For more information, see related articles in the archives of the Board Café:

A "360 Degrees" Assessment of the Organization
The Strategic Board Agenda by Tom McLaughlin
Board Self Assessment
Why Boards Don't Govern, Part 1
Why Boards Don't Govern, Part 2
Dashboard for Nonprofits
Governance Committees

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