What are the fiduciary duties of private foundation board members?

Private foundation board members, along with trustees, hold a pivotal role in steering the organization toward fulfilling its ethical and legal obligations. As fiduciaries, they are entrusted with the weighty responsibility of acting in the best interests of the foundation. In the following sections, we will delve into the three fundamental fiduciary duties that board members owe to the foundation: the duty of care, loyalty, and obedience.

Duty of Care

The duty of care requires board members to exercise a level of diligence and prudence that aligns with what an ordinarily prudent person would apply in similar circumstances. To fulfill this duty effectively, board members must:

Engaged Participation: Actively engage in overseeing the foundation's day-to-day operations. This includes attending board meetings, reviewing meeting minutes, and scrutinizing reports. Effective board members remain vigilant, seeking additional information when necessary to make informed decisions and promptly addressing irregularities.

Meeting Minutes: Ensure that accurate meeting minutes are taken at every board meeting. These minutes serve as vital records summarizing discussions, decisions, and official actions. They offer a historical perspective and provide a basis for accountability.

Books and Records: Regularly review the foundation's financial records, including accounting documents, tax returns, and grant records. For larger foundations, an independent audit by a CPA firm is often essential to maintain financial transparency and integrity.

Committees: Supervise and oversee all committees within the foundation, regularly assessing their progress and contributions to the foundation's mission.

Safekeeping of Property: Board members must act judiciously in safeguarding and managing foundation assets, ensuring they are used exclusively for charitable purposes and not for the benefit of insiders.

Prudent Investment Strategies: Board members should oversee and ensure the implementation of prudent investment strategies for the foundation's assets. This includes diversifying investments, minimizing risk, and consistently monitoring the performance of investment portfolios to align with the foundation's long-term financial sustainability and charitable goals.

Whistleblower Provisions: Establish mechanisms to address allegations of mismanagement or wrongdoing promptly. Ensure that the foundation does not retaliate against employee whistleblowers, as they are protected under the law.

Duty of Loyalty

The duty of loyalty obligates board members to make decisions that exclusively serve the best interests of the foundation. To uphold this duty, board members must:

Ethical Decision-Making: Board members should operate with the utmost integrity, avoiding any actions that could result in personal or family gain at the foundation's expense. Transparent and ethical conduct is non-negotiable.

Conflict-of-Interest Policies: The implementation and strict adherence to conflict-of-interest policies are paramount. These policies outline procedures for identifying, disclosing, and managing conflicts of interest, safeguarding the foundation's integrity.

Duty of Obedience

The duty of obedience compels board members to uphold the foundation's adherence to laws and regulations while faithfully advancing its charitable goals. To meet this duty, board members should:

Familiarize Themselves with Governing Documents: Board members should intimately understand and respect the foundation's governing documents, such as articles of incorporation and bylaws, as they provide the legal framework for the organization.

Legal Compliance: Board members must remain vigilant in their commitment to upholding federal and state laws that pertain to foundation operations. This encompasses not only employment regulations and tax compliance but also adherence to a wide spectrum of legal requirements relevant to their charitable activities.

Seek Professional Counsel: When necessary, seeking professional advice from attorneys, accountants, and other experts ensures adherence to legal compliance, sound financial management, and governance best practices.

In conclusion, private foundation board members wield immense influence over their organization's success and integrity. By embracing their fiduciary duties of care, loyalty, and obedience, board members can safeguard the foundation's mission, uphold legal requirements, and earn the trust of stakeholders. Ongoing education and periodic self-assessment further enhance their effectiveness in fulfilling these vital responsibilities, reinforcing the foundation's commitment to its mission and ethical obligations.

Seeking expert guidance? We're here to help!

At CPA KPA, we're passionate about magnifying the positive impact of private foundations. Feel free to reach out to us anytime at 888-402-1780 for a complimentary and obligation-free conversation. You can also conveniently submit your questions and inquiries through our contact page. Let's connect today and explore how we can help your foundation have a lasting and meaningful impact!

Other questions about