9 Key Functions of an Effective Board


“A Board is the backbone and the visionary leader for an organization. It is great that the KWCA board is being strengthened and enabled to take things forward…Our [conservancy] membership will inevitably benefit greatly from this workshop and this support.”

-Tom Lalampaa, Chairman of the Board, Kenya Wildlife Conservancies Association

The Board of Directors sets the tone and direction of an organization, thus effective board leadership and governance is critical in helping to ensure that a civil society organization can operate to its fullest capacity. Creating an effective board is a continual process that includes recruitment, engagement and development, as well as striking a balance between providing oversight and support to the organization’s leadership.

Given the significant role of the board, it’s not surprising that many of our partners have asked for our support in evaluating the role and effectiveness of their board and in helping them to identify ways to get the most out of their board. In preparation for a workshop with the Kenya Wildlife Conservancies Association, we developed a list of the 9 primary responsibilities of a board.

  • Determine mission and strategy. It is the board's responsibility to create and review a statement of mission and strategy that articulates the organization's goals, and means of achieving those goals. Boards also provide a mechanism by which constituents, who may provide the mandate for the organization, have a voice in setting strategy and providing oversight of programmatic work. Once mission and strategy is determined, it's the board's role to ensure the organization’s programs contribute to the laid out strategy. When need for a change in mission and strategy is identified, the board plays a role in redefining the new vision.
  • Select, support and evaluate the CEO. Boards must reach consensus on the CEO's responsibilities and undertake a careful search to find the most qualified individual for the position. The board should also develop and maintain a succession plan for replacing an executive in case of exit. Moreover, the board should ensure that the executive director has the moral support, as well as the professional skills and training that he or she needs in order to further the goals of the organization.
  • Ensure effective planning. Boards must actively participate in an overall planning process in regards to longer-term strategic planning and annual work planning. The Board should assist in monitoring the organization’s performance against planned goals, and adaptively managing the plan.
  • Provide oversight of programs and services. The board's responsibility is to determine which programs are consistent with the organization's mission and monitor their effectiveness, calling for performance evaluations and improvements as appropriate.
  • Oversee financial management and protection of assets. The board must assist in developing and approving an annual budget that supports the organization’s work plans and ensures that proper financial controls are in place to protect the assets of the organization. It is the board’s responsibility to select an auditor and review and respond to the results of an audit on an annual or bi-annual basis.
  • Ensure adequate financial resources. The board has a responsibility to support the executive team in their efforts to secure adequate resources for the organization to fulfill its mission.
  • Develop and maintain a competent board. All boards have a responsibility to articulate qualifications for candidates, assess and maintain desired skill sets on the board, orient new members, and periodically and comprehensively evaluate their own performance.
  • Ensure legal and ethical integrity. The board sets the tone of the operations of the organization, and should articulate the values and principals that set that tone. It is ultimately responsible for adherence to legal standards and ethical norms.
  • Enhance the organization's reputation. The board should be ambassadors for the organization, articulating the importance of the mission and the value of the organization’ work. The board should work to garner support from the community, including key stakeholders such as government, like-minded organizations and donors.