Sharper Management


There are two key legal terms that are often times thrown around but seldom understood in regard to serving on the Board of Directors: responsibilities and protections. As to the former (responsibilities), it is important to understand the concept of Fiduciary Duty. In short and very simplistically, it is the premise that Board members are acting for the benefit of all and for the association – and not for one’s self-interests. For a more in depth exploration of this concept, see the article from last fall: https://sharpermanagement.com/2018/10/fiduciary-duty/.
As to latter (protections), if the Board is, indeed, acting for the benefit of all and exercising their “duty of care” and “duty of loyalty,” then they are typically protected from lawsuits under the umbrella known as the “Business Judgement Rule.”
This premise means that actions taken by the Board, if within their powers, must reflect a reasonable and honest exercise of judgment. Given that Board members cannot always ensure success in whatever the initiative may be, the business judgment rule specifies that the court will not review the business decisions of directors who performed their duties (1) in good faith; (2) with the care that an ordinarily prudent person in a like position would exercise under similar circumstances; and (3) in a manner the directors reasonably believe to be in the best interests of the corporation.
The Cornell Law School has a rather concise overview here:  https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/business_judgment_rule.
  1. Good Faith – has been covered a number of times. Acting in the best interest of the collective.
  2. With Care – this is the one that is fairly subjective and where a Board is susceptible to claims of negligence or ill-intent. Boards must always use their resources, illustrating careful thought and having researched information as contributing factors to a decision. Some examples illustrating this would include: reviewing a Management Report prior to a meeting; asking for an attorney to review a detailed or complex contract/agreement prior to executing; utilizing an engineer for an in-depth study of a complex structural problem and gathering formal recommendations; engaging with an accountant to do an annual audit of the financials; speaking directly to an insurance agent before binding coverage. Engaging with experts and showing due diligence is always a good way to prove “duty of care” was taken
  3. Best Interest – if meeting minutes reflect these steps were taken, and if the discussion and decisions happened in a recognized open meeting of the Board, the Board is acting in a reasonable manner and in the best interest of the association.

As volunteers of a non-profit corporation, it is sometimes hard to recognize and accept there is a significant amount of liability put on the Board. If Fiduciary Duty is understood and followed, and Directors & Officers insurance is put in place, the Board should be comforted in the protections afforded under the Business Judgement Rule doctrine.