John McMillin: There’s more to a board member than some might guess

Since reading isn’t the most fashionable thing in the world these days, just the fact that you are reading this article, puts you in a special category.
Aug 24, 2014
John McMillin

Since reading isn’t the most fashionable thing in the world these days, just the fact that you are reading this article, puts you in a special category. What’s that category? Chances are that if you read this article, you probably try to keep up with the events and news of this county and the world around you, so you are in a more informed category. This means you may be one of those individuals we people in the nonprofit like to call on as volunteers and even board members.

Being involved with a nonprofit can be fun, challenging, exciting and will, most likely, give your feeling of self worth a great and deserved boost. You can stand on the street corner and shout about politics all day long every day of the year and not make as much difference as you can in just a short while volunteering your talents and skills with a nonprofit agency that helps your community.

Before making such a decision, it’s wise to know what’s involved. As a board member you may not be called upon to manage the day-to-day activities of a nonprofit. However, you do need to be prepared to act as a good steward and know that you have certain responsibilities under Tennessee law.  As the secretary of state of Tennessee puts it, “…Tennessee law imposes upon you the duty of loyalty and the duty of care.”

So what does this mean? The duty of loyalty means that you must act with undivided loyalty in the best interests of your nonprofit organization and that you won’t seek to personally benefit from the business activities of the non-profit you serve.

The duty of care means that you must act reasonably, as a prudent person in similar circumstances would, and that you are familiar with the nonprofit’s activities and financial health. It also means that you must regularly participate in board meetings. It means that you have to act in good faith and make informed decisions. It is your job as a board to oversee the work of the non-profit’s chief executive officer and to make sure that the organization is faithfully carrying out its charitable purpose without unnecessary waste or extravagance.

Many of you may know individuals that have taken on roles as board members in order to “punch their ticket” for community service with little or no intention of ever attending meetings or assisting the nonprofit organization. I’m proud of our volunteers and our volunteer board of directors at United Way of Wilson County for their dedication and involvement to our cause to positively impact this community. Through the years, I’ve worked with board members who have been at our office burning the midnight oil to get a special project done, seeking new campaigns and, above all else, attending board members and being active decision makers. 

Still reading? Finishing this column may mean that you are even more in demand. So don’t be surprised if a nonprofit near you needs your talents and skills as a member of their board and asks you to join their team.

John McMillian is president of United Way of Wilson County. Email him at


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