Tuesday, July 21, 2009


In her Senate testimony last week "a wise Latina judge" was grilled about her role as a board member of Puerto Rican Legal Defense Fund (PRLDF). The senators were trying to tie Judge Sotomayor to various PRLDF legal actions and advocacy of which they disapproved.

The judge responded with a brief disquisition on the role of board members at PRLDF and other similar public interest organizations like Mexican American Legal Defense Fund (MALDEF) and NAACP Legal Defense Fund (LDF). She said that if the senators reviewed the record of board meetings they'd find that most of the meetings were devoted to fund raising and that board members were expected to raise money not to decide the legal docket.

Having at various times over the decades worked for each of the three I can aver that her statement is true. And universally true. The trustees of nonprofits are legally responsible for conserving the assets of the groups they serve and among other things that devolves to assuring the organization budget is met. If to do so fund raising is required - as it is in most - that is indeed the board's role.

The Republican senators had no discernible interest in that. But I think it is useful to remind trustees of their basic responsibilities. I spend a lot of my time doing it - both as a consultant and as a board member of three nonprofits.

For the most part the board members I know take their responsibilities seriously as counselors and overseers holding their managements accountable. But like walking upright raising money doesn't come naturally. Most trustees are willing enough to give (if asked) but few are willing to ask and duck that part if they can consciously or not.

None of this has anything to do with Judge Sotomayor's qualifications for a Supreme Court seat of course. But this snippet of testimony was an otherwise light moment (for me) in a lethally tedious passion play.

No comments: