Filling Your Nonprofit Board Positions: Everything You Need to Know!

Organizational Management November 11, 2022

Sonia Urlando

By Sonia Urlando

Every nonprofit needs the keen eye of a board of directors—but what are the nonprofit board positions you should fill? In order to create a board that can uplift your organization’s mission and long term goals, you need all the right players in place.


Here is everything you need to know about building your board of directors, plus a complete list of board of directors positions for nonprofit organizations!

What is a nonprofit board of directors?

A nonprofit board of directors is the governing body and legal voice of your organization. Their meetings are where the big picture work gets done! Together, your board of directors uphold your nonprofit’s mission by discussing and voting on key decisions around goal-setting and strategy.


Keep in mind that a governing body is not the same as a manager! Nonprofit board responsibilities mostly include high-level discussion and final approvals on long-term plans. From there, the staff can get creative with the day-to-day work that makes it all possible.

Smaller nonprofits often have staff members fill board member positions, but it’s best to keep them separate where possible to keep the mission on track.

10 Nonprofit Board Responsibilities

Before we dig into our list of nonprofit board of directors positions, it’s important to understand what responsibilities and expectations come with the work.

 

Here are 10 nonprofit board responsibilities to know:

Strategic + Organizational Planning

Your board is responsible for the strategic and organizational planning needed to meet your community’s needs.

 

During regular meetings, the board discusses and votes on issues like:

 

  • Your mission, vision and values

  • Your current programs (and how they can be improved!)

  • Building and retaining supporters

  • Current and future staffing

  • Financial projections and budget work

 

Above all, the board is the entity which asks: are we getting what we want, and if not, how do we get there?

Financial Projections + Management

Your board is responsible for reviewing your finances. By communicating with stakeholders and team members, the board is able to build and manage a financial plan.

 

Your board members don’t need to be accountants by any means, but they should be able to:

 

  • Read and interpret financial statements

  • Review and approve the nonprofit’s budget

  • Approve major organizational decisions that come with a high price tag

 

Remember: a nonprofit’s tax-exempt status is granted with the expectation that they’ll carry out their mission! Messy finances are the number one way to get your organization in hot water.

Program Planning

Your programs bring in new members and additional revenue, as well as develop your public image. Your board of directors should have a clear understanding of (and excitement for!) your mission. This makes them an awesome resource for imagining new programs!

After your board brainstorms and discusses planning opportunities, your staff can develop the strategies to make them possible.

Fundraising

Fundraising is the lifeblood of nonprofit organizations! Board fundraising can give you a heck of a boost—the connections your board of directors have open up a network of donors who believe in your work!

When you’re running your fundraising campaigns, your board members should spread the word far and ride. If they are available, see if you can get them in the field. They can help out by speaking in webinars, helping with phone banking or attending public events!

If you’re looking for a way to manage your fundraising, check out WildApricot’s member management software. We can build a website, gather your member information in a database, help you blast through fundraising goals and more!

Sign up for your 30-day free trial today.

Legal Compliance + Risk Management

One major responsibility of your board of directors is managing the legal side of things. Board members should be aware of applicable federal, state and local laws to make sure your organization is in compliance. Legal missteps can lead to the loss of tax exempt status, hefty fees or even legal action!

Your board is also in charge of risk management, which is basically the plan you have set for if things go wrong. This keeps your organization prepared in case of:

  • Data security breaches

  • Legal compliance issues

  • Fundraising fraud

No one wants to deal with any of these problems, but having a plan will reduce a load of stress should any of them pop up in the future.

Policies and Procedures

Your policies and procedures determine what you can do, what you can't do and what to do if something goes wrong. This information gives employees a sense of structure around what is allowed and possible, and management a guide for what to do if things go wonky!

It is the board's responsibility to get these policies in place, and vote on changing them if issues repeatedly come up.

Executive Staffing

Your nonprofit board members also need to select and evaluate your organization’s executive director. While staff members and major donors have a say in who might be a good fit, the final decision is in the hands of the board. After all, they’ll be the ones working together the most closely.

Hiring a new executive director looks like:

  • Assessing the organization to see where an executive director can help

  • Building a job description and overseeing the selection process

  • Conducting an annual evaluation

  • Determining an appropriate salary

Branding + Marketing

Image is everything! As we’ve said, your board of directors should be passionate about your nonprofit's mission. The way they present their support to the public can go a long way to uplifting your organization.

Your board of directors should:

  • Use their network to reach new supporters

  • Volunteer their time for special events

  • Act as a PR cheerleader with the media

Think of your board members as the frontline advocates for your cause. Enthusiasm and genuine support is part of the job description!

Board Member Recruitment

Because board members’ terms only last for a couple of years, they should always be on the lookout for successors. Recruiting board members who bring fresh skills, insight, networks and experiences to the table (while avoiding conflicts of interest!) is the ideal.

Have your board form a committee who can proactively reach out to prospective members, conduct interviews and eventually onboard new members. Your current members know all the strengths and weaknesses of the boardroom, and have the power to fill in the blanks best.

Board Meetings

The central day-to-day work of being a nonprofit board member is participating in board meetings. The minimum is holding the Annual General Meeting, but ideally your board of directors should meet a few times a year.

These meetings are where all of your organization’s current issues and future goals are brought to the table and voted on.

What to Consider When Building Your Board

Before you get started filling your nonprofit board member positions, it’s important to consider what you want from the board itself!

Here are 13 useful things to consider: 

Board Recruitment Timeline

Make a timeline for recruiting your board of directors. It’s not something you should rush by any means, but dragging your feet will keep you from kicking off your organization’s goals.

 

Training Resources for the Environmental Community has a great guide for the recruitment process—incorporate these steps into a doable timeline, and you should be set!

Number of Board Members

Decide how many board members you want, and make note of how many are legally required to be there! The state or province in which you’re incorporating should have that information, so check in from the start. 

 

Generally, three members is the minimum number. The board member positions that get filled in these roles are chair, secretary and treasurer. The more members you have, the more specialized the roles can get—but don’t feel the need to push it too far if you’re on the smaller side!

Term Length

The typical term length is 2-5 years, but just like with the number of positions, term length depends on your state or province’s guidelines. 

 

In Ontario, for example, the Not-for-Profit Corporations Act (ONCA) states that a nonprofit board member’s term should last a minimum of one year and a maximum of four—though they can be re-elected or re-appointed at the end of that term!

Staggered Terms

If you want to avoid the chaos of having the full board turn over at once, staggering terms is a good safety mechanic. For example, have some members commit to one year, others to two or three and some all the way to the full four.

 

With a staggered term system, as you recruit new people to fill your nonprofit board of directors positions, someone will always be around for training.

Board Skill Set

Across the board (get it?), your nonprofit board of directors should have a passion for your organization and a commitment to support its future success. Because each board position comes with different responsibilities, it makes the most sense to recruit people with skills related to the role. For example, a treasurer should have some sort of background in finance.

 

Try to fill your board of directors with people from diverse backgrounds, job titles and experiences. The more perspectives you have, the more creativity your board can bring to the table!

Board Structure

Decide how you want your board of directors to be structured, and what each board positions responsibilities are. The most basic board would include a president or chair, secretary and treasurer.  On the broad level, this covers leadership, documentation and financial matters.

 

If you find yourself with some lofty goals that need extra delegation, it is always possible to open up more positions! 

Board Responsibilities

One common point of confusion is which responsibilities belong to board members versus the executive director of the organization! Think of it like this: the board is responsible for high-level planning, and the executive director is the one who makes it happen through operations and day-to-day work.

 

While each board position is different, all of your directors should: 

 

If you set up some documentation for your board that lays out roles, responsibilities and expectations, you can clear up confusion from the beginning!

Committees

Setting up some committees of the board is a great way to give special attention to key issues.  They're typically kicked off by the chair who then appoints volunteers (both directors and others!) to see their goals through.


Some common nonprofit committees include: 

  • Executive committee (responsible for dealing with big in-meeting issues or conflicts)

  • Governance committee (responsible for bringing on new members)

  • Finance or audit and risk committee

  • Fundraising committee

  • Marketing committee


These committees can be created at any time, and can be either temporary or permanent. 

Setting Expectations

Everyone who takes on one of the nonprofit board member positions should understand the roles and expectations from the start.


This means having a clear idea of: 

  • How often board meetings are held

  • What events they should participate in

  • Fundraising goals (for both the board and the organization)

  • What parts of their expertise you hope to have them share

Your new board members will be excited to support your organization, so be clear on how you would like that support to play out!

Board Training

Training is everything! Recruiting your board members is only the first step—the next part is giving them the tools to rock the job. 


Put a training program into place along with a system to collect regular feedback. Remember those committees we were talking about? This is just the place to use them!

Board Meetings

Your nonprofit’s board of directors are expected to regularly attend board meetings. The absolute minimum requirement is to hold an Annual General Meeting, but you can (and likely should!) hold quarterly or monthly meetings for regular check-ins.


These meetings are where your board reviews your nonprofit’s health, brainstorms future opportunities and addresses any urgent issues. A meeting might not seem very exciting, but this is really where the magic happens!

Measuring Success

In order to assess how well your board of directors is fulfilling their nonprofit board responsibilities, it's important to regularly look at how you're doing. A standardized assessment can give you the data you need to keep making improvements!


Boardable suggests some of the most common assessment methods, including: 

  • Self-assessment

  • Peer-to-peer assessment

  • Assessment by executive director

  • Assessment by an external consultant

Staff Buy In

Your staff are the people who get the groundwork done, so it's important that they feel good about the work your board of directors are doing. Run them through your recruitment process and ask for suggestions on what your nonprofit could use in a board member.

6 Nonprofit Board Positions (And What They Do!) 

Now that you know all about what a board of directors does, you’re probably wondering: what are nonprofit board positions?


Here is a list of the essential nonprofit board member positions:

Chair

The chair or president is the person who oversees the board, the organization’s executive officer and/or the senior management team. In larger organizations these roles are split up, with the president focusing more on financial goals and the chair in charge of leading the board.


Key responsibilities:

  • Leading board meetings

  • Setting objectives, assigning roles and creating committees

  • Evaluating and working with executive officer

  • Holding board members accountable


Best qualities:

  • Strong leadership skills

  • Deep investment in the organization

  • Comfortable being a spokesperson


Common professions:

  • Previous board experience

  • Community organizer

  • Lawyer

Vice-Chair/Vice-President

The vice-chair or vice-president supports the work of the chair, following their lead on special assignments and filling in where necessary. This is a role for someone who has long-term leadership goals.


Key responsibilities:

  • Act as chair when needed

  • Working closely with chair

  • Supporting HR for hiring

  • Performing assigned tasks from chair


Best qualities:

  • Ongoing interest in learning

  • Comfort in unexpected situations


Common professions:

  • Manager

  • Public speaker

  • Team leader

Treasurer

The treasurer is in charge of tracking how your nonprofit stands financially. They’re usually in charge of the financial committee as well, and lead all discussions around spending.


Key responsibilities:

  • Managing and filing taxes

  • Building and adjusting the budget

  • Conducting and reviewing annual audits

  • Working with the bank and board’s financial statements

  • Advising on large financial decisions


Best qualities:

  • Financial knowledge

  • Strong business sense

  • Practicality (and flexibility!)


Common professions:

  • Accountant

  • Banker

  • Financial advisor

Secretary

The secretary is responsible for taking your board meeting minutes and keeping your board compliant with your nonprofit’s bylaws. If someone needs information about previous meetings, the secretary will have that on hand.


Key responsibilities:

  • Schedule regular board meetings

  • Keep board member contact information up-to-date

  • Take accurate board meeting minutes

  • Oversee membership lists

  • Orient new board members


Best qualities:

  • Attention to detail

  • Organization master


Common professions:

  • Secretary in another setting

  • Copyeditor

  • Arts administrator

Committee Chairperson

A committee chairperson serves as... you guessed it, the chairperson of one of your committees! Their job is to execute their responsibilities the role was created for and to report to the rest of the board. The chairperson’s skills should fit the specific needs of the committee they are leading. 

FAQ

Here are a few frequently asked questions about nonprofit board positions:

How many positions are there on a board?

The number of nonprofit board member positions you have depends on the needs of your organization, along with your local legal requirements. Typically, a board of directors has a minimum of three members, but five to ten is not unusual.

Do board members have a job description?

Yes, all nonprofit board of directors positions should come with individual job descriptions! These help set the expectations for each role.

Do nonprofit board members get paid?

According to the National Council of Nonprofits, most nonprofit board members are volunteers, but it is possible to have the roles be paid. This all depends on your organization's bylaws. But generally, it is unusual for the roles to come with compensation.

Who should serve on a board of directors?

People who take on nonprofit board positions should be invested in the organization's mission, vision and values. They should also bring essential expertise that can help the organization continue to grow.

How do you structure a board?

A board is structured based on your organization's size and needs. Typically, a chairperson leads the board, a treasurer manages the financial aspects and  a secretary keeps track of the document.


If you find that you need other board member positions, such as a vice-chair or a committee chair, you can always make space for those as well.

What are the differences between nonprofit and for-profit boards?

While both nonprofit and for-profit organizations have boards of directors, the responsibilities look a bit different.


Nonprofit boards are:

  • Larger

  • Typically unpaid

  • Made to support a charitable mission


For-profit boards are:

  • Smaller

  • Paid

  • Made to earn the organization more money

Are board requirements different between states and countries?

Yes, board requirements are different depending on where your organization is based! Some of these differences can include board member terms and the minimum number of members required for your board. Be sure to look up this information in order to stay in compliance with local laws.

Filling Your Nonprofit Board Positions

And there you have it—everything you need to know to build out a rockstar board! Search for the people that believe in what your nonprofit stands for, and you’ll be sure to see the results.


Once those fresh new ideas are in place, make sure you have a place to keep everything organized. From building your member database to running the fundraiser of your dreams, WildApricot has got it all.

Sign up for your 30-day free trial here!

 

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