Laurie Norton Moffatt on the Role of Trustees

Rockwell Museum Director Argues for Respect

By: - Aug 14, 2017

I would like to address the issue of board service to not-for-profit organizations. Without the hundreds of generous leaders who step up to serve on museum, cultural, education and human services boards, our community would not function and so many services we value and take for granted would cease to exist. If you have never served on a board or been part of a non-profit organization, it may be difficult to understand the role of a trustee.

When an individual agrees to serve on a board, they give of their time, talent and treasure. Or you may have heard the phrase work, wealth and wisdom. Different individuals contribute in different ways and are selected for their ability in one or more of these three areas. Without the generosity of trustees and patrons who support all the not-for-profits, most would go out of existence.

Did you know that Berkshire County has more non-profit organizations per capita than any other region in the nation? Is this because we are a community of do-gooders? Yes. Is it because we have a cornucopia of natural and cultural resources to steward second to none? Yes. And do we experience in our community the same challenges of the impact of income inequality and lack of hope among many of our citizens. Yes to all of the above. This places a huge demand on finding volunteer leadership and donors to support all these organizations.

To the matter of trustees providing services to an institution they serve, there is nothing to say that cannot or should not be done. Competitive public bid procedures and full disclosure to the board of any contract awarded to a trustee is acceptable procedure. Often trustees discount services and it benefits the organization to purchase services from a trustee to save money.

Trustees are generous with resources, but they can't do it alone. It is not easy serving on a board. The constant striving for resources, the unexpected challenges that come along, the expectation to be informed and knowledgable about the organization and industry it represents and the charge to make good decisions is demanding and is a great responsibility.

The Berkshire Museum are facing a very difficult situation. While many in the community believe it is a mistake to sell the art, the board came to this decision in good faith. We may disagree with their decision, but in my opinion, it is not constructive or helpful to criticize individual members of a board. Despite the enormous frustration, anger and sense of helplessness many feel over thIs decision, I urge that conversation focus on the art issues and on helping the public understand what is to be lost by this action. Wouldn't we want a board member to feel appreciated for reevaluating the decision and be willing to reopen dialogue if a compelling case is made? I support the board in seeking a solution to financial sustainability, though I disagree with the solution of selling the finest art treasures to do so.

For more information on understanding the role trustees see the Division of Charities publication and the organization Board Source,

Laurie Norton-Moffatt, is the director of the Norman Rockwell Museum. This editorial was posted to the Facebook site Save the Art and is reposted here with her permission.