Establishing a Board of Directors

As nonprofit corporations, all IHDF Programs or local IHDF Affiliates are required to have a Board of Directors. Since volumes have been written on the structure, organi­zation, and behavioral dynamics of Boards of Directors, the infor­mation here focuses specifically on boards in the context of the IHDF Program. 

The minimum number of board members is determined by state law, but it is usually small; three directors is a typical requirement. For many IHDF Programs, the board consists of the initial funders or members of the Expansion Committee. At local IHDF Affiliates where multiple Programs have been established, boards are usually larger and include a representative of each individual Program. However, IHDF Programs have become more diverse and have more widely representative Boards of Directors. This is because more Programs are being formed as the result of broad-based collab­orative efforts to raise funds and engage long-term institutional part­ners from the community where the program operates.  

Board Member Roles and Responsibilities

The Board of Directors is charged with the responsibility of man­aging the affairs of the corporation, and directors have a fiduciary responsibility to act in the best interests of the corporation. The Board of Directors also fulfill responsibilities such as financial over­sight, long-range strategic planning, policy making, fund raising, and resource development. Among IHDF boards, a few of these specific duties usually take precedence. The members of the Board of Directors are the Program’s key networking con­tacts, opening doors to helpful sources of funding, services, and other support within the community. One of the fundamental premises of the IHDF model is that creating long-term, trusting relationships between individuals who have access to resources and young people who do not, will facilitate the delivery of resources to the children and increase the likelihood that the children will take advantage of these resources. The Board of Directors are the primary “individuals of influence” who bring the opportunities to the Dreamers.

IHDF boards may also be responsible, in cooperation with the National “I Have A Dream” Foundation, for promoting expansion of the pro­gram in their city or locale. In many cities such as Los Angeles, New York, Denver, Dallas, and others, the Board of Direc­tors sets goals for establishing new classes, kicks off expansion committees, and conducts fundraising to support new Programs.

The nature of the work IHDF boards do changes over the course of a program. Boards that are organizing the first IHDF Program in their city may be required to use a more hands-on approach than boards directing the management of a well-established Program or IHDF Affiliate composed of several Programs. 

IHDF Boards of Directors require a wide variety of skills from their members. Members with expertise in education, financial management and accounting, law, fund raising, public relations, and social services are frequently recruited. Some IHDF Projects include Dreamer parents as board members.

Board members are usually also expected to be financial sup­porters of the organization. However, this is not a legal require­ment. Being able to demonstrate that 100 percent of the board gives financial support signifies the deep commitment of the members to the prosperity and success of the program, which in turn will instill confidence in outside donors. If a Program wants to require that all members make some financial contribution to the organization, that expectation should be stated clearly to all new members being recruited. While financial support at some level from all the board members is important, sensitivity to the varying ability of different members to contribute can be demonstrated by maintaining appropriate discretion about the amount of an indi­vidual’s contribution and by acknowledging every gift, no matter how modest, in a timely fashion. Many Programs find that members who are generous with their time, insight, connections, and skills offer indispensable assistance to the organization that far out­weighs the importance of their financial support.  


Much of the work boards do is often conducted by committees. IHDF boards typically create some of the following committees:

The executive committee. A subset of the full board that is responsible for oversight and decision making between board meetings. Often it consists of the officers of the Board of Directors. In some cases, particularly where there is a large Board of Directors or one that meets infrequently, the executive committee conducts most of the governing functions of the full board.

The development committee. Responsible for fundraising and resource development.

The program committee. Responsible for tasks such as long­ term program planning, foreseeing Dreamers’ needs, and helping Program leadership to create appropriate programs. Also helps in identifying community resources that may support programs. Is responsible for troubleshooting and organizing and implementing special activities such as recommitment ceremonies, holiday celebrations, or graduation exercises. 

The volunteer committee. Responsible for assisting the Program leadership in recruiting, screening, training, and honoring volunteers. 

The public relations committee. Responsible for developing Project promotional materials, establishing media relationships, publicizing Project events, and creating opportunities for publicity in the community such as speaking engagements and interviews. 

The board development/nominating committee. Responsible for assessing the board’s membership needs in terms of skills, diversity, and community connections. Helps in identifying, recruiting, and recommending individuals for board membership, and orienting and training new board members.

Advisory Committees

Advisory committees are a way to supplement the governing function of a Board of Directors without creating an unwieldy decision­ making body. Members of an advisory committee typically do not have substantive legal responsibilities and do not vote on the day­ to day operations of the program. Some IHDF Programs form advi­sory committees as a means to solicit programmatic expertise and provide additional community representation. Some establish advi­sory committees for specialized functions like planning fundraising events. 

Programs may rely heavily on their advisory committees, which meet frequently and provide continuous support and guidance. Or the committee may be available for guidance, technical assistance, and help in fundraising on an as-needed basis. Other Programs’ advisory committees are composed of high-profile community lead­ers who lend prestige to the program.

Some Programs have parent councils that act in many ways as an advisory committee. The council may plan activities and workshops for the Dreamer parents or help organize special events like holiday celebrations or year-end picnics. They may produce a parent newsletter or contribute to the Program’s newsletter. Typically, the parent council also voices its suggestions for the type of program­ming and support they want the Project to provide to the children.

Board Resources and Templates

Sample board assessment grid to help with board development efforts.

Sample template for sharing board expectations, roles, & responsibilities with new board members.

Board of Directors Position Description Template