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The Role of the Board Member

October 2005
By: Tom Lothamer
As a pregnancy care center recruits volunteers to serve on its board of directors, the leadership must clearly and succinctly convey what it expects the members to do, both individually and collectively. From the outset of the relationship, members need to understand what their roles will be and how they can fulfill their responsibilities.

When I attended my first meeting as a public school board member, a colleague who had joined the board a year earlier asked, "What is our role as board members?" That question set in motion discussions lasting several years. As a result of these talks, we came to a helpful understanding of our role as board members in relation to the administration, faculty, and staff. We now define our two roles as ends and means.

It's the PCC board's role to define the ends of the ministry, i.e., its policies, goals, budgets, etc. The staff and volunteers are responsible to engage in the means to accomplish those ends.

Maybe you, like my board colleague, have pondered the same question. What is your role? The following list of general responsibilities (in no particular order) may help you and others on your board formulate your roles and responsibilities:

Appoint and yearly evaluate the chief staff officer (e.g., the executive director or CEO).

Attend all meetings of the board of directors. (This may seem obvious, but you'd be surprised how many PCC board members fail to meet this simple obligation.)

Set organizational policy, determining how the ministry will operate.

Approve and monitor the annual budget and yearly plan for ministry.

Help develop a mission and vision statement and review it periodically.

Participate in the establishment of a strategic plan for the organization. This is vital to ensuring the organization's future success and survival. A great many PCCs have never engaged in this type of planning—to their detriment.

Evaluate how effective the board has been in accomplishing its own objectives.

Serve on board committees as necessary. I'm not a big fan of board committees for the sake of having them. There are occasions when a temporary committee assignment may be necessary, but generally the full board or a committee-of-the-whole should conduct business.

Educate yourself about the organization and its area of ministry. Members should learn more about the abortion industry, become familiar with other pro-life ministries in their community, and keep apprised of what's going on in the Pro-Life movement in their state and the nation.

Understand the history of the organization, its bylaws, and policies.

I highly recommend that boards develop a board member profile and job description for prospective board members. The profile serves as an application for board membership and gives current members information about new candidates. It also allows the prospective board member to articulate his or her understanding of the pregnancy care center ministry. The job description helps board candidates understand their roles and responsibilities before joining.

You may obtain samples of these documents from me. Meanwhile, I'll be preparing my next article, in which we'll discuss the roles of board members relating to fundraising and public relations.

Tom Lothamer is President of Life Matters Worldwide in Grand Rapids, Michigan. 

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