In this guest post, Jeb Banner the founder of Boardable, provides rationale and road map to create nonprofit boards which truly embody Principle 3 of The Eight Principles®: Leadership Leads™.
Successful, sustainable organizations are run by knowledgeable, empathic leaders.
Leaders provide direction and set an example for the rest of their organization. For most organizations, their board members are their primary leaders, impacting the course of their organization’s future.
As Principle 3 of The Eight Principles® Leadership Leads™ notes, effective leadership is instrumental for sustainable organizations.
As representatives of your organization, your board of directors are tasked with leading by example and embodying your mission.
Even amongst your board, there are leaders.
A board’s officers are elected by their fellow members to handle urgent situations between meetings and prioritize the most important items for the entire board. These officers are expected to always act with the organization’s best interests in mind, carrying out their responsibilities with prudence, honesty, and fairness.
But who exactly are these officers and how can board members know who amongst them is capable of fulfilling these roles? To help your organization build a well-structured team of officers, we’ll cover which positions form the executive committee and what responsibilities they’re each charged with fulfilling, including:
- The Chair or President
- The Vice-Chair
- The Secretary
- The Treasurer
The official responsibilities of each officer will be determined by your organization’s bylaws. However, most organizations assign similar tasks to each role, creating some consistency across various boards of directors. This allows board members to assess themselves and their fellow members to determine if they are an appropriate fit for an officer role.
Board Officer #1) The Chair or President
The chair (also commonly called the president) of a board is the chief elected officer. They represent the entire board and lead their colleagues by facilitating meetings and keeping the organization on track to fulfill its mission. Boardable’s guide to board chairs outlines their core responsibilities in greater detail. This individual:
- Presides at board meetings. While all of your board members are professionals, their meetings require purposeful leadership to be both efficient and effective. Your board chair maintains order at meetings and pushes your board members to provide as much value as possible by overseeing the flow of meaningful discussion.
- Works closely with the executive director. The executive director and board chair are two distinct roles. However, the two support each other as the executive director provides key information about how your organization is functioning on the ground. This allows your board chair to have a firmer understanding of your organization’s day-to-day operations when making high-level decisions.
- Appoints committee chairs and members. Your board chair should have a firm grasp on each of your board member’s strengths and weaknesses, allowing them to assign members to committees where they can excel. They can also periodically attend committee meetings to ensure they are staying on track and working to complete their immediate goals.
- Is the primary spokesperson for the board and often the organization. The board chair is the face of both your board and your organization as a whole. This individual often speaks on behalf of the organization to the press. This also means board chairs need to be conscious of their public image and actions as they can reflect on the entire organization.
Of course, your board chair’s responsibilities don’t end there. Board chairs are required to continually assess your organization’s direction and make strategic choices about its future. Doing so effectively requires a strong combination of professional expertise, intrapersonal skills, and experience.
Who Should Be In This Position?
Whoever fills this role should be passionate about leading your board and representing your organization. They will need to fully understand and embody your mission to establish a future vision that everyone can strive to work toward.
Your board chair needs to be a charismatic presenter, but they also should have proactive listening skills. After all, your chair will need to objectively preside at meetings—even during heated discussions—and maintain the respect of their peers, staff, and your organization’s stakeholders.
Given the importance of this position, board chairs should be selected from seasoned members of your board who have served for an appropriate amount of time, though requirements can vary across organizations.
Board Officer #2) The Vice-Chair
The vice-chair goes by many names, such as co-chair, chair-elect, or vice president. No matter the name, this officer serves as the next-in-command to the chair. The co-chair supports the board chair and helps maintain a sense of consistency if your chair is ever absent. More specifically, their responsibilities include:
- Fulfilling the board chair’s responsibilities when not present. Even the most dedicated board chairs get sick or have emergencies come up that prevent them from attending meetings. In these instances, it’s the vice-chair’s responsibility to step in and keep your board meetings running without interruption.
- Assisting the board chair in executing their duties. The board chair has a long list of responsibilities, and the vice-chair should step in to help accomplish any tasks that might otherwise fall by the wayside.
- Charing ad hoc committees. If your organization ever forms an ad hoc committee or task force, your vice-chair will be expected to step in and lead these committees to complete their objectives.
While you may heavily rely on your board chair, your organization shouldn’t cease functioning if they need to step away for a few days. This is where your vice-chair comes in to pick up the slack and ensure your organization continues to run smoothly as needed.
Who Should Be In This Position?
Vice-chairs should possess many of the same skills and qualities that make your board chair effective. This includes being a highly-organized individual who is capable of leading a group of skilled professionals through both routine and more complex conversations.
While they share many of the same responsibilities and the vice-chair is expected to occasionally fill in for the board chair if needed, your vice-chair is not your board chair. The vice-chair does not require quite the same amount of experience as your chair to succeed.
In fact, many organizations use the vice-chair position to train potential candidates to eventually take up the position of board chair. After all, if a vice-chair demonstrates they can step into the chair’s position in the event of an absence, they likely also have, or are on the way to having, the necessary skills to be chair full time when your current chair steps down.
Board Officer #3) The Secretary
The secretary is a crucial officer at most organizations. This individual is often charged with maintaining the organization’s documentation. This may sound straightforward, but it includes a long list of responsibilities such as:
- Taking minutes at meetings. Meeting minutes document what is discussed at your board meetings. Minutes record your boards’ conversations and official decisions, maintaining transparency.
- Monitoring board members’ compliance with bylaws. Secretaries ensure that your internal governing documents such as your bylaws are accessible by all board members. They’re often expected to hold board members and officers accountable to these documents.
- Assuring documents are accessible by all members. All of your board’s core documents should be organized, maintained, and updated by your secretary. Technology can assist board secretaries in storing and keeping track of this information, but this responsibility ultimately still needs a human touch from a detail-oriented individual.
- Maintaining an event calendar for the board. While your board members should know their individual schedules, it’s up to your board secretary to create the schedule and alert board members about upcoming events and meetings.
- Maintaining board members’ contact info. Your secretary needs to be able to reach out to all of your board members and ensure everyone else at your organization can as well. This typically requires updating their contact information in a centralized document as needed.
From this list of key duties, it should be fairly clear that documentation refers to a wide range of smaller responsibilities, from overseeing day-to-day tasks such as sharing meeting agendas with board members to maintaining legal compliance by keeping your internal records organized.
Who Should Be In This Position?
Your board’s secretary needs to be someone who is highly organized, has strong communication skills, and is able to juggle multiple tasks at once.
The exact responsibilities of this position will vary depending on the size of your organization. At small organizations, secretaries will need to stay on top of several tasks, both big and small, including everything from thanking donors to scheduling major fundraising events.
Similar to your board chair, it’s best to choose a secretary who has at least some experience in a similar position, such as previously serving as the secretary at another organization. Experienced individuals will understand what it takes to not just keep their own schedule organized, but to coordinate an entire group of busy people like your board members.
Board Officer #4) The Treasurer
The treasurer is in charge of the organization’s finances. This includes setting budgets and making important decisions regarding the organization’s spending. While the treasurer doesn’t need to be a certified accountant, they should be able to complete many bookkeeping responsibilities, which Jitasa’s guide on nonprofit bookkeeping outlines as recording financial transactions, updating financial records, and allocating costs.
Additionally, your board’s treasurer will be tasked with:
- Chairing the finance committee. Your treasurer oversees all of your organization’s major financial transactions and needs to have the necessary leadership skills for guiding your finance committee.
- Acting as a signatory on all bank accounts. While not the case at all organizations, treasurers are often responsible for allocating funds for each of your organization’s bank accounts.
- Reviewing the annual audit and answering board members’ questions about it. You will need a certified accountant to complete your organization’s audit. However, it’s up to your treasurer to review and distill this information for board members. They’ll be responsible for delivering the report to the board for approval. A skilled treasurer will be able to highlight the most pertinent information for their fellow board members without brushing over important details.
It’s easy to reduce a treasurer’s responsibilities to data entry and signing checks, but in truth, a board treasurer needs to have a strong understanding of the ins and outs of your organization’s spending restrictions, fundraising practices, and long-term budget.
Who Should Be In This Position?
Board treasurers should be detail-oriented individuals with at least some experience in finances, whether that is bookkeeping, accounting, or another similar field. Potential treasurers should understand both your organization’s immediate budgetary concerns and long-term strategic goals. That way, they can help your organization stay in good financial standing.
Outside of having a head for numbers, a treasurer should know how to translate potentially complex financial information into an easily understandable presentation or report. Your board members are busy people, and a skilled treasurer will know how to draw their attention to the most pressing budgetary concerns without wasting time going over each detail.
Your board officers are the guiding hand not just of your board, but your entire organization. These highly skilled individuals should be professionals in their fields and be motivated to see your organization’s success come to fruition. Make sure to set your board officers up for success by carefully assessing the strengths of each potential candidate and cast your vote for those who can live up to the expectations of their role.
Jeb Banner is the founder and CEO of Boardable, a board management software provider for mission-driven boards. He is also the founder of two nonprofits, The Speak Easy and Musical Family Tree, as well as a board member of United Way of Central Indiana and ProAct. Jeb is based in Indianapolis, Indiana.
As the CEO and a Founder of Boardable, Jeb is passionate about community nonprofits, entrepreneurship, and more. He also founded SmallBox, a creative agency for mission-driven organizations, and is co-founder of The Speak Easy and founder of Musical Family Tree, both 501(c)(3) nonprofits.