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Standard 1.1 on Overall Functions and Responsibilities of the Governing Body

 PreambleTable of ContentsStandard 1.1‑1


A legal aid organization should have a governing body that establishes its mission, sets and oversees implementation of broad general policies to guide the organization, and actively participates in planning for its future.


General Considerations

Each organization should have a governing body or its equivalent that assumes overall responsibility for the success of the organization. The governing body should carry out its responsibilities in a manner that maximizes the organization's capacity to serve persons effectively. Individual governing body members should be aware of and sympathetic to needs of communities served, and the governing body should operate in a manner that enhances engagement with the communities and the persons the organization serves. 

The overarching responsibility of the organization's governing body is to establish the mission for the organization and to set broad general policies to guide the organization in its provision of legal assistance to the communities it serves. The governing body should also ensure that planning takes place to accomplish the organization's mission and that adopted policies are implemented. 

A number of functions and duties fall to a governing body as a part of its overall responsibility for the well-being of the organization. Key responsibilities are treated in separate Standards that follow, including oversight of compliance with legal and contractual responsibilities and with governing body policies, fiscal oversight, hiring and supervising the chief executive, serving as a resource for the organization, and fundraising. 

Overall Responsibilities

Define and review the mission. The governing body should determine the organization's mission and purpose. It is the governing body's responsibility to create and periodically review a statement of mission and purpose that articulates the organization’s goals, ascertains the means that it will utilize to accomplish those goals, and identify the primary constituents to be served. The governing body should clearly articulate the organization's mission, accomplishments, and goals in order to help garner support for the organization from the public. 

Set policy for the organization. Consistent with the organization's mission and purpose, the governing body has the responsibility to set broad general policies for the organization's operation. These policies should include, in the first instance, the organization's articles of incorporation and bylaws. The governing body should adopt such other broad policies that make up the general set of rules under which the organization operates and clarify the roles, responsibilities, and duties of the governing body and the organization's staff. These policies establish the standards against which to measure the actions of members of the governing body and the organization's staff and help safeguard the entity's general well-being. 

The precise policy role of the governing body will depend upon local judgment about the appropriate division of authority and the responsibility between the governing body and the organization's chief executive. Generally, the governing body has broad decision-making authority on fundamental matters, such as determining delivery structure, adopting priorities, selecting the chief executive, adopting the budget, establishing a salary structure for staff, and overseeing the implementation of these policies. In addition, the governing body may be required to establish policies, such as setting eligibility guidelines, to comply with requirements of a funding source.

Engage in planning efforts. The governing body should also be engaged in planning efforts, including strategic organizational planning with leadership and staff, called for in these Standards to guide how the organization responds to the legal needs of the communities it serves. It should ensure that planning furthers the organization's mission and fosters the effective and efficient utilization of its resources to meet the most compelling needs of its clients.