Guide for Board Members of Charitable Organizations

Preparing to load PDF file. please wait...

0 of 0
100%
Guide for Board Members of Charitable Organizations

Transcript Of Guide for Board Members of Charitable Organizations

The Attorney General’s
Guide for Board Members of Charitable Organizations

Commonwealth of Massachusetts
Office of Attorney General Maura Healey

One Ashburton Place Boston, MA 02108

March 2015

(617) 727-2200 www.mass.gov/ago

Table of Contents
TABLE OF CONTENTS Introduction .......................................................................................................................................... 5 I. Board Members Have Responsibilities ..................................................................................... 7 II. You Have the Right to Information ......................................................................................... 7 III. Make Sure Your Board is Vital and Diverse .......................................................................... 8 IV. Choose and Evaluate Your Chief Executive Officer Carefully ....................................... 9 V. Get Involved in Setting Executive Compensation ........................................................... 10 VI. Beware of Conflicts of Interest .............................................................................................. 11 VII. Pay Close Attention to Financial Matters ..........................................................................13 VIII. Educate Yourself ......................................................................................................................14 IX. Other Resources to Assist You in Your Responsibilities ................................................. 15
The Attorney General’s Guide for Board Members of a Charitable Organization

The Attorney General’s Guide for Board Members of a Charitable Organization
INTRODUCTION
This guide is provided by the Attorney General’s Office to help board members of nonprofit charitable organizations carry out their important responsibilities. As a board member you have both the privilege and the responsibility of participating in the governance of an organization that is operated not for the benefit of private individuals, but for the benefit of the public. As the agency of the Commonwealth charged with protecting the public’s interest in your organization’s activities, the Attorney General’s Office deeply appreciates your willingness to serve as a board member and recognizes your hard work and dedication perform an extremely important service for all citizens of the Commonwealth.
While portions of this guide may be helpful and applicable to all nonprofit organizations, it should be emphasized that it is specifically designed for board members of those nonprofit organizations that are “public charities.” What constitutes a public charity is not widely understood, and people are often surprised to learn that these organizations range in size, scope and complexity from our largest universities and health care systems to small, neighborhood-based social service organizations. As a general rule these otherwise diverse organizations are linked, not just by nonprofit basis, but because they operate on an exclusively charitable basis and collect, hold and expend funds solely for the benefit of the public.
Examples of nonprofit organizations that are public charities include philanthropic organizations as well as most of our hospitals, schools, social service providers, cultural organizations, parent-teacher associations/organizations, and youth sports leagues. Examples of nonprofit organizations that are not public charities, and are therefore not regulated by the Attorney General’s Office, include chambers of commerce, labor unions, social clubs, civic associations and similar organizations that benefit only their members. If you have any doubt regarding your organization’s status, you should consult legal counsel or contact the Non-Profit Organizations/Public Charities Division of the Attorney General’s Office at (617) 727-2200, ext. 2101.
Often we are asked what we believe are the most important things a board member can do in order to best serve his or her organization. Here are our recommendations in key areas of stewardship. While this guide is not intended to prescribe the exact manner in which a Massachusetts public charity board must function, and while we recognize that the size, form and structure of the boards vary greatly, we believe that this guide will help all board members do their jobs well.
Page 1

The Attorney General’s Guide for Board Members of a Charitable Organization
I. BOARD MEMBERS HAVE RESPONSIBILITIES If you are a trustee or a member of the board of directors of a charitable organization, you and your fellow board members are responsible for governing the organization. The law imposes upon you two primary duties: the duty of care, and the duty of loyalty. The duty of care means that you must act with such care as an ordinarily prudent person would employ in your position. The duty of loyalty means that you must act in good faith and in a manner that you reasonably believe is in the best interest of the organization. As discussed throughout this guide, it is your job to oversee your chief executive officer (CEO) and to see that the organization is faithfully carrying out its purpose without extravagance or waste. THIS MEANS:
• You should attend board meetings and meetings of committees on which you serve. You should make sure that you receive detailed information beforehand about matters which are going to be voted on at a meeting.
• You should carefully read all of the material which you receive and prepare yourself to ask questions.
• You should use your own judgment and not simply take the word of your CEO or fellow board members.
IN SHORT: You should be aware of and informed about every major action the charity takes.
II. YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO INFORMATION In order to carry out your legal responsibilities as a board member or trustee, you must be able to make informed judgments about important matters affecting the organization. The law permits you to reasonably rely on information from the organization’s staff, lawyer, auditor, outside advisors, and board committees in making those judgments. If you do not have adequate information, you have the right to get it.
Page 3

The Attorney General’s Guide for Board Members of a Charitable Organization
THIS MEANS: • You have the right to have reasonable access to management. • You have the right to have reasonable access to internal information of the organization. • You have the right to have reasonable access to the organization’s principal advisors, such as its auditors or attorneys, for example. • Senior management must be willing to facilitate board access to the books and records of the organization. • Senior management must be willing to facilitate communications between the board and the principal advisors of the organization. • The board has the right, if necessary, to engage the services of outside advisors at the organization’s expense to assist it with a particular matter.
IN SHORT: You have the right to obtain the information you need to carry out your responsibilities as a board member.
III. MAKE SURE YOUR BOARD IS VITAL AND DIVERSE A charity’s board should be vigorous and responsive to the mission of the charity. You should make sure that your board’s process of selecting new members assures diversity of viewpoints and rotation of board members and officers. As a board member, you have responsibility for ensuring that the public and charitable role of the organization will be carried out in a way that is effective in furthering the mission of the charity. A nominating process which invites openness, variety, and change is important to achieving this goal. THIS MEANS:
• Your nominating process should reach out for candidates, and actively recruit individuals whose commitment, skills, life experience, background, perspective, or other characteristics will serve the organization and its needs.
Page 4

The Attorney General’s Guide for Board Members of a Charitable Organization
• A larger candidate pool may result if you include non-board members as well as board members on your nominating committee.
• Term limits for board members are an effective way to ensure board vitality. If your board does not have term limits, board members should be reviewed periodically to confirm that they remain interested in and suitable for the board. Rotation off the board, assignments to off-board committees, and designation as emeritus members are other ways to achieve a vigorous board.
IN SHORT: To avoid becoming labeled as a closed club for “insiders only,” choose board members who have an interest in the organization’s mission, represent diverse viewpoints, and have a willingness to learn, and then be sure there are opportunities for board renewals.
IV. CHOOSE AND EVALUATE YOUR CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER CAREFULLY Hiring the organization’s CEO is one of the most important tasks you have. It is the job of the board to engage in a selection process which will allow the board to find the right person to carry out the charity’s purpose efficiently and effectively. The organization for which you are responsible can only benefit when the entire board participates in hiring and evaluating its chief executive employee. THIS MEANS:
• The board should form a search committee at the beginning of the hiring process. If the board does not create a written job description for the CEO position prior to hiring, it should at least develop a profile of the sort of CEO it believes the organization’s mission and current needs require.
• A majority of the search committee members should be board members, but it may be beneficial to include staff members and others knowledgeable about the organization and its mission .
Page 5

The Attorney General’s Guide for Board Members of a Charitable Organization
• If the size of the board permits, the entire board should interview the final candidates and participate in contacting their references.
• The entire board should make the final decision to hire the CEO. • After the CEO is hired, the board should periodically review and assess the
chief executive’s performance, keeping in mind that the board has the authority to discharge as well as hire the CEO.
IN SHORT: Board members should actively participate in selecting and evaluating the charity’s CEO.
V. GET INVOLVED IN SETTING EXECUTIVE COMPENSATION
The board is responsible for setting the compensation of the organization’s CEO and other senior managers. When setting executive compensation, you should be mindful that the public, which supports the charity and uses its services, is interested in knowing the amount. This information is provided to the public by the Non-Profit Organizations/ Public Charities Division of the Attorney General’s Office and by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), and is available online to anyone who wishes to review an organization’s Form 990 at www.guidestar.org, an independent database of nonprofit organizations. In addition, both the IRS and the Non-Profit Organizations/Public Charities Division from time to time scrutinize the reasonableness of a charity’s executive compensation and the process used by the board to determine this compensation. Complaints of excessive compensation or private benefit, whether from regulators or from the public, can expose the organization to legal action and damage its good name.
THIS MEANS: • Every board member should know what the CEO and other senior managers are paid, including the value of any non-salary compensation, such as the use of an automobile, retirement funds, etc. • If a compensation committee is used, it should not make the final decision. In setting compensation, you should consider the performance of your CEO and senior managers and the compensation provided to other similarly situated
Page 6
BoardOrganizationAttorneyOrganizationsCeo