Role of the Board of Directors, and How to Build One

What exactly is a board of directors in a nonprofit? Here is a definition of the board as it relates to a for-profit company, but when it comes to a nonprofit, priorities and responsibilities start to diverge.

As a member of a board, you have the power to make real change in an organization, but it’s important to note that this power only comes from the board as a whole, and not from each board member. Members of the board have no individual authority over the organization. Here are the primary focuses of the board as a whole:

  • They guard the mission of the organization and, through guidelines, steers it in the right direction.
  • They monitor the activities, the health, and the ethical behavior in the organization.
  • They ensures that the organization is well-equipped to fulfill its mission – adequate finances, capable staff, and esteemed reputation.
  • When they hires the first chief executive, it delegates the daily management to that person. Maintaining a regular contact with the board and particularly the chair, the chief executive keeps the board informed about the issues and activities that are part of the life in the organization. In fact, the board would have great difficulties making well-rounded decisions without constant input from the chief staff person. The rest of the staff – in due time – will help the chief executive more efficiently implement the directives the board has set.

So, how do you go about building a board of directors in a nonprofit? Your board’s role will be critical within your organization, and as you go through your list of potential candidates, consider the following:

  1. Does the candidate’s contacts, network, and environments vary from but also complement the other directors you are considering? If you want to create an objective and unbiased board, then diversity is a necessity.
  2. How interested is the candidate in your organization’s mission? They need to display meaningful concern for your organization’s advancement.
  3. How well will they be able to separate possible differences between their individual business interests and the welfare of the organization? The less conflict of interest, the better.
  4. Take a good, hard look at their value system and integrity. This may be hard to glean right away, but it is crucial to nourishing your organization.
  5. Can they be a team player? How well do they deal with differences in opinion?
  6. On the flip side of working in a group setting, are they also self-sufficient and able to work well independently?
  7. Can they listen, examine, and think clearly and imaginatively? Will they ask questions without hesitation?
  8. What is their work ethic like? Will they be accountable to the expectation of attending board/committee meetings, and being adequately prepared for those meetings? Can they take responsibility and complete their designated tasks?
  9. Will they be willing to contribute personal and financial resources to the organization, and promote and seek outside funds?
  10. What kind of ties do they have with the community? Do they have the ability to open doors in that community?
  11. Can they recruit board members and other volunteers, should the need arise?
  12. How adaptable are they? Can they develop other skills if the organization is in need of them (for example, the ability to read financial statements)?

Once you’re done seriously considering the candidate’s abilities, personality, and potential, they need to be aware of certain responsibilities they’ll have to fulfill for the organization. Consider the following:

  1. The individual is prepared to participate in and attend all board and committee meetings and functions.
  2. They’ll stay current on board and committee matters as well as review and offer feedback on minutes and reports.
  3. Stay up to date on the organization’s mission, services, policies, and programs.
  4. He or she is current on developments in the organization’s scope of interest. There is a willingness to serve on committees and suggestion to take on special tasks.
  5. The board member is informed on any developments in the community, economy, or government that could potentially affect the organization.
  6. The individual shares in organizational fundraising.
  7. He or she enlightens others about the organization.
  8. The individual makes personal financial contributions.
  9. Suggest potential persons to the board who have the ability to contribute to the work of the board and the organization.
  10. The individual understands and subjects himself/herself to conflict of interest and confidentiality policies.
  11. Helps the board by implementing fiduciary responsibilities (for example: the review of annual financial statements).
  12. A member participates in planning efforts gives feedback in yearly evaluations.

Check out this article on what questions to ask when interviewing candidates for your board. And if you’re working for a nonprofit and are looking for a way to manage your donors, check out our new donor management software. Until next time!


Clay Harmon writes content for Aplos by day and makes up novel-sized stories by night. When doing neither, his Kindle e-reader is close at hand, or he is drinking coffee and losing at video games on his computer. Raised at the gateway to Yosemite, the occasional trip into the Sierras gives a quick fix for an addiction to mountain air and serves as inspiration for future books cooking in that brain of his.

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