I was reviewing the most current issue of my spouse's AARP The Magazine and right at the very last page found a "Special Report" titled "Many Voices, One Vision: 22 board members oversee AARP's course into the future".
The article describes the job of AARP's all-volunteer board of directors
...who give their time and talents to overseeing the association, setting policy, and steering AARP into the future. To make decisions, the board relies on feedback from AARP members, analyze polling and other research, consult with professional staff, and deliberate intensively.
The article also notes that "board members come from all walks of life and all regions of the country. Many have risen through AARP's volunteer ranks (note: AARP has 37.5 million members according to a February 2010 press release) working on local issues before joining the national board.
Even more interesting to me, "Although they are unpaid, the direcotrs typically devote at least 45 days a year to AARP business, for terms that run six years". This amount of time is generally double of what I have found most board members of nonprofits (except those in the infancy or juvenile stages of development where many also volunteer to do the organization's work) put in but it includes "travel around the country to hear AARP's members' concerns and opinions firsthand as well, I imagine, the big AARP annual conference.
The one other major point in the article focuses on the Board's diversity which "helps promote understanding" for decisionmaking.
Not having a direct working relationship with the AARP board I cannot say that its roles, responsibilities, composition or structure are THE model for nonprofit governance knowing that there are many factors that determine the best model at a given time in the organization's life. I also can not say for sure how well the board really works on the day-to-day in the areas of effectiveness or efficiency i.e., results.
However, promoting a nonprofit's board as one of its key assets and providing a flavor for who these folks are and what they do with their time is an important step to providing a nonprofit's constituent with a value-added flavor of an often otherwise hidden body of people and work.
May 2011 be a year when your nonprofit board is productive and valued.