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.

President 

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.

Secretary

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.

Treasurer

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.

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