Nonprofit Board Service Part 1: Roles and Responsibilities

I get a lot of questions about what it’s like to serve on a nonprofit board, who does what on the board, and what happens during meetings. This post will be the first in a series on the topic of nonprofit board service. I hope that once you know more about the ins and outs, you’ll consider volunteering and contributing to an organization whose work resonates with you personally. Serving on the board of a nonprofit an honor that you will take seriously and commit energy to, and in light of that, you’ll want to do things right – and that starts with understanding your role, and the role of the others you’re serving with.

Let’s start with who does what.

Executive Team

Some matters require extra attention from the executive team. The Executive members of a nonprofit board are generally the president, vice president, secretary, treasurer, and any committee chairs. An executive session is a great way to talk privately and set up tactical messaging and consistent communications on the part of the board leadership. When and why to old an executive session is up to you and your organization. This document from Board Source provides an excellent summary of when, how, and why to utilize executive sessions.


The president is the primary executive officer of a nonprofit and is responsible for representing the organization publicly, coordinating with executive staff, running Board meetings and keeping the organization on track. This is a tough job, and should be assigned to someone with leadership ability as well as a passion for the organization. In meetings, the president calls the meeting to order, calls votes when needed, and generally makes sure that proceedings follow bylaws and rules of procedure. It’s the president’s job to speak on behalf of the board when it comes to external communications and communications with staff on sensitive issues. I like this post from Nathan Garber and Associates on the president’s role.


The secretary’s role is to manage the schedule of the meeting, take minutes/notes, and then provide information to board members after the meeting and before each meeting about deliverables, assignments, and more. They’re the recordkeeper of authority and ensure that all other board members have access to and are familiar with the bylaws. They are truly the primary organizers and task trackers of the group. It’s important that this person be a stickler for the rules, and not afraid to delegate tasks and responsibilities to other board members. For more detail about the secretary role, check out this excellent outline from Nathan Garber and Associates.


The treasurer keeps track of financial matters of the organization and works closely with the executive director to ensure that the organization is able to stay on budget, present a sound financial image to the public and to donors, pay staff and meet financial expectations and demands. This individual monitors bank accounts and financial transactions of the organization. More information about the roles of a nonprofit treasurer can be found on Nonprofit Law Blog.

Committee Chairs

In many boards, there are a few committees that help the organization address specific goals or projects. During board meetings, it’s important that the entire governing body be kept up to date on current events and progress. Committee chairs will need to provide updates of new information during meetings, even if there isn’t much of note. These committees often meet in between regularly scheduled meetings in order to address their projects and deliverables. An example of a common committee is a development committee, whose main focus is fundraising, either through events or grant applications.

Other Members

When it’s time to build out a board or bring on new members, it’s important to consider whether your membership is comprised of folks who are helping your organization achieve its goals. I love this document from the Association of Fundraising Professionals on Building an Effective Board of Directors. If you’re still wondering what board members do versus. what staff members do, I think this article from the Free Management Library provides a great summary of division of labor.

Organization Staff

If the organization has staff, they will need to provide an update of what has happened or what work has been done since the last time that the group met. This helps everyone stay up to date and make decisions based on the most current information. Which staff provide updates, beyond the executive-level staff, is up to the discretion of the board and the organization’s leadership.

Shoot me a message on Twitter with any questions you have about board service! If you’re not ready for board service, but still want to give back, check out my post on volunteering.

Time to Get Social!

For small organizations and non-profits, social media is an important way to ensure that your voice is heard above the massive amounts of content found on the internet every day. Here are some ideas to help you get going on your social media presence and start reaching your target audiences.

Who are they?

Determining who you are hoping to reach and inspire is the first important step to creating and distributing effective social media content. This information will help you to create the right message for the right platform. Determining your target group should include factors like age range, location, interests, professional area – anything pertaining to your area of focus.

Where do they go for content?

Figure out where your chosen audience goes to get social, and focus your resources on that platform. For example, If you know that you’re hoping to recruit college students to help out on some upcoming volunteer event, find out what social media platforms they are using. Pew Internet put together this great post about demographic breakdowns for a ton of popular social media sites.

What do they care about?

Small organizations and non-profits need to keep up-to-date on the issues that impact and motivate our audiences. Creating informative, instructional content that speaks to current events and the needs of your audience is called Content Marketing. Check out the Wikipedia article on the topic for more information.

Location-based news is a particularly great starting point for a Tweet, Facebook post, etc. Remember that your audience cares about the issues more than they care about your organization – so when you write about a cause you care about, focus on providing information about how you offer a solution to the problem your audience would like to solve.

For example, if your company makes great ice cream, instead of writing about how your product is made and why it’s the best, you would write a post about some local restaurants that carry it, so that your target group knows where to get their fix. You can still provide more details about your product on your website.

What type of message to use?

Today’s social media platforms all provide a range of ways to maximize your content. Videos, pictures, GIFs, Emojis… the sky’s the limit when it comes to creating exciting content. Familiarize yourself with the benefits and disadvantages of each, and select a few that work for your organization and that fit to your target group. For instance, if you want to target 30-50 year olds, a picture will probably work better than GIFs or Emojis. I like this post from Impact Branding and Design that breaks down several popular sites.

The world of social media engagement and outreach is always growing and changing, and this post only scratches the surface of what’s available (for free!) to your organization. It’s important to remember that effective social media is updated frequently.

Focus only on the platforms that your audiences like and use, and save your team the effort of creating content for sites that aren’t going to be useful.

Good luck! If you want to chat about all things social, give me a shout on Twitter.