A board of directors spreads out the authority for accountability and decision-making in governing its nonprofit. At the time of your nonprofit’s founding, the founding board members determined which board positions to set up and how to distribute their responsibilities.
Collectively, your board should bring together all the necessary skills to ensure robust nonprofit governance. Governance is a system of rules, principles, and protocols that outline how to run a nonprofit. One way nonprofits demonstrate good governance is when multiple people are involved in decision-making.
Today, gender, demographics, and cultural diversity are essential characteristics to consider when recruiting and choosing board members.
To help you form a capable nonprofit board, we’ll outline how to structure a nonprofit board, define the roles and responsibilities of nonprofit board positions, explain why you need board job descriptions, and shed light on how to find nonprofit board member positions.
How to Structure Nonprofit Board Positions
When setting up or altering your nonprofit board’s structure, consider that the board of directors doesn’t get involved in managing the organization’s daily activities. The board’s primary role is to oversee the nonprofit’s affairs and activities. They do this by meeting regularly to discuss and vote on the organization’s affairs.
By design, nonprofit board positions aren’t intended to be permanent. Nonprofit board terms generally range between 2-5 years. It’s generally best to stagger board terms to eliminate the risk of an entire board turning over simultaneously.
Most boards start with at least three board positions, including:
- Board chair or board president
- Board secretary
- Board treasurer
Some boards also elect or appoint a board vice-chair or vice president who takes over in the event the board chair or board president can’t serve their duties. Depending on the board’s structure and preference, it’s also common for nonprofit boards to elect or appoint a few at-large board members to round out the group.
Board Roles and Responsibilities
Your bylaws or a board policy will outline the roles and responsibilities for each board officer and board member roles.
It’s considered best practice to have a written job description and an outline of each board member’s duties and responsibilities and ask each member to sign a form stating they understand their responsibilities.
The following descriptions provide a brief overview of each board officer position:
Board Chair or Board President
The board chair oversees the board’s work and often facilitates board meetings. Also, the board chair is generally the primary person who works with the executive director or senior management team to make sure things are running smoothly and keep the board informed.
These are some of the primary duties of a board chair or board president:
- Recommends members for committees and appointing committee chairs
- Works in connection with the executive director to prepare board meeting agendas
- Arranges for or takes part in new board member orientations
- Takes the lead on the executive director’s annual performance evaluation
- Works with the appropriate or individual to recruit qualified new board members, candidates
- Serves as the nonprofit’s spokesperson as needed
- Takes the lead in the annual board member self-evaluation process
Vice-Chair or Vice President
The vice-chair or vice president has the same duties and responsibilities as all other board members, including the duty of loyalty, the duty of obedience, and duty of care. The board president may assign special duties to the vice-chair or vice president and ask them to fill in for the board chair as necessary.
The secretary’s primary duty is to take and maintain accurate meeting minutes. Another duty of the secretary role is to monitor legal compliance with the organization’s bylaws and other matters.
The treasurer is responsible for managing the budget. In this role, the treasurer also typically chairs the finance committee. The person filling this role should have experience in financial accounting for nonprofits. The executive director works closely with the treasurer to ensure the financial reports are continually updated, and they’re accessible by the executive director and board members in a timely manner. The treasurer plays a significant role in the annual auditing process and should be primed and ready to answer board member questions about the audit.
The Importance of Board Job Descriptions
The IRS isn’t particular about the qualifications of nonprofit board members. Most anyone can serve on a nonprofit board of directors if they have the desire to serve. In most cases, nonprofit board members draw board member candidates from the business population in their communities. Businessmen and businesswomen already have many of the skills necessary for serving on a nonprofit board.
Board members need to know what’s expected from them from the first day of board service. While incoming board members may have an idea of what’s expected from them on the board, it’s best to develop a board description for officer and at-large board positions and put it in writing. If there is ever a question about competence, the board can refer back to the job description and compare notes.
How to Find a Nonprofit Board Position
Serving as a nonprofit board member is a valuable experience in many ways. It can help you increase your business network and bolster your resume. A board member position allows you to apply your expertise and experience in a nonprofit arena.
Board experience can prove to be valuable in your career and other areas of your life, and it can give you experience in working with a board management software program. It’s also personally rewarding to donate your time to a worthy cause.
To find an open nonprofit board member position:
- Take a proactive approach.
- Be open and vocal about your commitment to nonprofit board service.
- Look for open opportunities on LinkedIn, Bridgespan, and BoardnetUSA.
- Mention your desire to serve on a nonprofit board to your coworkers and other people within your network.
Something is sure to materialize as nonprofit boards are often looking for new board members.