The Basics of a Nonprofit Board

A nonprofit’s board of directors does an important job. It holds the ultimate responsibility for your organization and how it serves its constituents. Board members provide insight, foresight and oversight, and if they’re doing their jobs right, they help you see problems before they occur by evaluating how well things are working and looking for new and better solutions.

Your board of directors makes sure your nonprofit fulfills its mission, meets its regulatory responsibilities and files the appropriate paperwork with government agencies. Members ensure that the nonprofit meets goals and keeps promises to the public, donors and beneficiaries.

What kind of person makes an ideal board member? No matter the focus of the organization, the best boards include dedicated and passionate people who know what the nonprofit is working toward and channel all their energy into the good of the organization. To do this, they must know what the mission is — and how it might change over time. As the organization grows, the board keeps it focused so that programs and services help accomplish the mission and raise the funds to keep your dreams alive.

Nonprofits should stagger members’ terms so that someone new is always cycled in, bringing fresh perspectives and ideas. Each member needs a task that they’re responsible for so that each member can bring something to the meeting for discussion. These assignments should be sent out before the first meeting and should tackle tough topics such as fundraising, structures and communication.

The board hires and oversees the executive director, handling the recruiting process and deciding on a pay scale. The executive director manages staff and volunteers and runs the day-to-day operations, working with the board on strategic planning, fundraising and evaluations.

The board’s other responsibilities include financial oversight, monitoring how closely financial activity matches the actual budget, and seeing how much programs and services cost and determining whether the costs are appropriate. The board puts internal controls in place, helping write policies to prevent loss, theft or confusion.

Diverse board members laughing during a meeting around a board room table. A notebook icon with a list of action items is in the lower right corner

The board needs to make realistic plans for the nonprofit’s vision, its constituents’ needs and the external context your organization operates in. It implements your strategic plan for accountability and evaluation, including costs of operating programs, appropriate levels of cost and whether programs or services should be initiated or discontinued.

For maximum effectiveness, each nonprofit board should:

  • Develop a meeting schedule.
  • Create an agenda with at least one topic for conversation a week before the meeting.
  • Keep accurate and detailed minutes of the meeting. 
  • Keep the meeting focused so it doesn’t go on too long.
  • End each meeting with an open discussion of ideas and problems and a time for accomplishments to be recognized.

Finally, the board should be self-aware and continually evaluate its own effectiveness in enhancing the nonprofit’s role among its constituents.

To learn more about how our firm can serve your nonprofit organization, don’t hesitate to contact Kathy Corcoran at (302) 254-8240.


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