Follow the Ethical Guidlines

Non-Profit Boards Should Reflect Community

By Moses L. Pava

Published February 03, 2012, issue of February 10, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Corporate boards, whether in the for-profit or nonprofit sector, are accountable to the communities for which and in which they operate. Boards serve numerous functions, including setting the overall mission of the organization; hiring, compensating and evaluating the performance of CEOs; ensuring adequate financial resources and oversight; recruiting new board members to replace retiring board members; and providing wise counsel on legal, ethical and social responsibilities.

For-profit corporate boards represent the interests of the owners of the corporation. This means shareholders. In the nonprofit world, however, who “owns” the organization? It is not the CEO (although sometimes CEOs act as if they are the owners), nor is it the board.

In the case of Jewish nonprofits, I suggest that, from an ethical perspective, the best answer to the question of who owns the organization is the Jewish community, as a whole, or at least that portion of the community that the organization aspires to serve.

Read the Forward’s special op-ed section on How to Handle Our 1%, including Leonard Saxe on Creating a Tax for Jewish Education, David A. Teutsch on Training More Leaders, and Shifra Bronznick on Hiring and Paying Fairly.

If this insight is correct, several important implications follow. A board should reflect the diversity of the community that it represents. Board members should include men and women, business leaders, accomplished professionals, educators, clergy, representatives of labor, along with philanthropists. Further, it is the board itself, and not the CEO or professional staff, that is ultimately responsible for selecting new board members. Allowing the CEO and his or her staff to select new board members is like letting the home baseball team select its own umpires.

Board members should be selected not only based on their ability to provide financial support to the organization but also on their ability to articulate and demonstrate the highest and best values of the Jewish community.

Nonprofit boards have a responsibility to publicly report sufficient information so that the community can evaluate their finances and other measures of performance. The disclosure of this data should be part of an ongoing dialogue between the organization and the broader Jewish community. Nothing short of the legitimacy of the organization is at stake here.

Jewish boards are like the mashgiach at a wedding, who ensures that the food is kosher. The mashgiach does not cook the food but is there to make sure that the caterer is following the traditional rules of kashrut. Jewish boards should be not so much running Jewish organizations as overseeing them.

We often make the mistake of thinking that Jewish ethics can be found only in books and codes. This is wrong. Jewish ethics, if they are to be found anywhere, are to be found in our daily activities. Most profoundly, Jewish values are those values-in-use that drive the behavior of our most important Jewish institutions — schools, philanthropic organizations, nursing homes, synagogues, universities, family service providers and newspapers.

At their best, Jewish boards represent the Jewish community as a whole. They are not the guardians of Jewish values, but they are the most watched contemporary practitioners of Jewish ethics.

To fulfill their responsibilities to the Jewish community, Jewish boards must speak the modern language of efficiency. There is nothing sacred in wasting resources. More important, though, Jewish boards must carve out a space where ethical dialogues can flourish and make a real impact on organizational behavior.

Moses Pava is the Alvin Einbender Professor of Business Ethics at the Syms School of Business, Yeshiva University. His most recent book is Jewish Ethics in a Post-Madoff World (Palgrave Macmillan, 2011).


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • It’s over. The tyranny of the straight-haired, button nosed, tan-skinned girl has ended. Jewesses rejoice!
  • It's really, really, really hard to get kicked out of Hebrew school these days.
  • "If Netanyahu re-opens the settlement floodgates, he will recklessly bolster the argument of Hamas that the only language Israel understands is violence."
  • Would an ultra-Orthodox leader do a better job of running the Met Council?
  • So, who won the war — Israel or Hamas?
  • 300 Holocaust survivors spoke out against Israel. Did they play right into Hitler's hands?
  • Ari Folman's new movie 'The Congress' is a brilliant spectacle, an exhilarating visual extravaganza and a slapdash thought experiment. It's also unlike anything Forward critic Ezra Glinter has ever seen. http://jd.fo/d4unE
  • The eggplant is beloved in Israel. So why do Americans keep giving it a bad rap? With this new recipe, Vered Guttman sets out to defend the honor of her favorite vegetable.
  • “KlezKamp has always been a crazy quilt of gay and straight, religious and nonreligious, Jewish and gentile.” Why is the klezmer festival shutting down now?
  • “You can plagiarize the Bible, can’t you?” Jill Sobule says when asked how she went about writing the lyrics for a new 'Yentl' adaptation. “A couple of the songs I completely stole." Share this with the theater-lovers in your life!
  • Will Americans who served in the Israeli army during the Gaza operation face war crimes charges when they get back home?
  • Talk about a fashion faux pas. What was Zara thinking with the concentration camp look?
  • “The Black community was resistant to the Jewish community coming into the neighborhood — at first.” Watch this video about how a group of gardeners is rebuilding trust between African-Americans and Jews in Detroit.
  • "I am a Jewish woman married to a non-Jewish man who was raised Catholic, but now considers himself a “common-law Jew.” We are raising our two young children as Jews. My husband's parents are still semi-practicing Catholics. When we go over to either of their homes, they bow their heads, often hold hands, and say grace before meals. This is an especially awkward time for me, as I'm uncomfortable participating in a non-Jewish religious ritual, but don't want his family to think I'm ungrateful. It's becoming especially vexing to me now that my oldest son is 7. What's the best way to handle this situation?" http://jd.fo/b4ucX What would you do?
  • Maybe he was trying to give her a "schtickle of fluoride"...
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.