Lessons From a Professional Nursing Association Boardroom

Monday, 30 October 2017: 1:15 PM

Timothy M. Carrigan, PhD
1653 W. Congress Parkway, 11 Kellogg, Rush University Medical Center, Chicago, IL, USA

The initial exposure to governance for many nurse leaders is when they are first elected to a professional nursing association board of directors. Serving on a board requires a significant commitment of time, and is not without risk, so it is vitally important that nurse leaders understand the various board member roles, duties and expectations. Board members act as trustees of the organization's assets and must exercise due diligence and oversight to assure the organization is well-managed and fiscally sound. It is of course expected that all managers and employees within any nonprofit organization consistently strive for excellence in realizing their missions, in managing resources effectively, and by acting and governing ethically and with integrity, but it is the nonprofit’s board that is vested with the ultimate responsibility and accountability for the organization’s actions and behavior.

Board members are the fiduciaries who steer the organization towards a sustainable future by adopting sound, ethical, and legal governance and financial management policies, and by making sure the nonprofit has adequate resources to advance its mission. One of the most important responsibilities for any board is to hire, set the compensation, and evaluate the performance of the individual charged with day-to-day management of the organization, the CEO/executive director. When additional paid staff are in place to assist in the management of the organization, which is most often the case, board members are still asked to provide foresight, oversight, and insight in setting the strategic direction of the organization, while at the same time taking care not to cross the line into the day-to-day operations management.
At first, the role of the board, the various board committees and the different leadership roles can seem overwhelming. Not only must each individual board member learn about their three main legal responsibilities —the duty of care, the duty of loyalty, and the duty of obedience—but they must also quickly be brought up to speed in key areas such as the articles of incorporation, bylaws, and board policies and procedures. The establishment of such a fundamental knowledge base is absolutely essential, not only to support the nurse leader in being an effective member of the initial board assignment, but also in preparing the nurse leader for future elections to other types of boards because all board will have the same basic infrastructure. The author outlines his journey to a professional nursing association board room and lessons learned along the way