Congregational boards hold the authority and responsibility for the congregation as an institution, as designated in the bylaws. Though comprised of individuals, the board must operate as a single entity in service of the mission of the congregation. In other words, individual board members do not have the authority to make decisions on their own unless they have been expressly given that authority by the board or the bylaws.
The responsibilities of board members can be summarized in the following areas:
Duty of Stewardship
Members of a congregation's board should be generous givers to the congregation. This doesn't mean that they need to be the top givers in terms of dollars, but they should be giving at a "stewardship" level in terms of percentage of income. Another marker of being a generous giver is if the congregation is one of the top two or three organizations to which you give.
Duty of Care
A board member must always act in the best interest of the congregation as a whole and how it is serving its mission and vision. Board members should not be representatives of specific constituencies or interest groups. However, boards with a commitment to anti-oppression, anti-racism and multiculturalism would include those commitments as part of serving its vision.
Duty of Loyalty
A board member must always act in the best interests of the congregation, rather than in their own interests, or the interests of family, friends or other associates. This duty also encompasses:
Conflicts of Interest
Conflicts of interest in congregations can be quite complicated, since board members have family members, friends and other outside community and business associations with members of the congregation. Board should adopt clear conflicts of interests policies that consider:
- allowing board members to be involved in discussions to understand facts, then excusing them from discussions leading to a vote.
- creating an impartial committee to consider bids from businesses that include one connected to a board member, based on objective facts such as fair market value and quality.
- documenting how the policies were followed while making the decision in the board minutes.
Sample Conflict of Interest Policy from the Internal Revenue Service
Congregational boards need to balance transparency of communicating their work with the members of the congregation with the confidentiality of their internal process in reaching decisions, and with the confidentiality required as employers dealing with personnel issues.
The board should speak with one voice. “Speaking with one voice” means that everyone around the table can say “All of my concerns have been heard and considered in this decision. I can support the process and decisions that have been made by the group and can represent the decisions that the group has come to as my own outside this room.”
Personnel matters should be discussed in executive session, where the details of the discussion are confidential, and only the motions passed would be recorded in the minutes. Examples would include performance reviews of staff or key volunteers, health issues concerning staff or key volunteers, or pending litigation.
Duty of Obedience
This simply means that board members are expected to follow all local, state, and federal laws, and to be in compliance with the congregation's bylaws, policies and any other governing documents.