For a nonprofit organization the buck stops at the board of directors. The board is the group of people that are duly elected through whatever procedure is stipulated in your by-laws, who are charged with the governing and carrying out the purpose of the organization.

Few board members clearly understand the responsibility involved when they are asked to join a board. Very often we recruit our friends, relations and others by saying “You don’t have to do much, just come to the meetings!” Typically board members are also surprised when they learn they have legal and financial responsibilities. They thought they were just helping bring arts programs to the schools.

How Board Members Are Chosen

Ideally, prospective board members are told what their responsibilities will include when they are RECRUITED or asked to join the board. The nominating committee (or board development or leadership development committee) has the job of identifying the best prospects for recruitment.

What Do You Do After They Agree to Serve

After your recruits have agreed to join the board and have been elected they will need an ORIENTATION. The orientation should be required and can be a formal group meeting or a series of informal, one-on-one sessions. The orientation should be led by a knowledgeable board member (i.e., the president, another officer, etc.) The orientation session is an opportunity for new board members to ask questions as well as learn more about your organization.

Many groups find it helpful to use a “board handbook.” This collection of material is given to new board members and is often reviewed as a part of orientation.

Organizational Tasks

President (Chair, CEO)
Legally obligates the organization; speaks for the organization; and responsible for the organization “working.”

Verifies financial process, ensures legal and financial compliance and accountability.

Verifies signatures and is responsible for ensuring that records are kept.

All Board Members

  • Be a steward of the organization’s mission to the public.
  • Ensure that the organization “keeps its eyes on the prize” – i.e., defines the organization’s ends.
  • In a staffed organization, delegates work and figures out the means to the Executive Director. In an unstaffed organization, ensures that the organization’s structure is such that things get done in the most effective way.
  • Hold the Executive Director or volunteers accountable for ensuring that the means help the organization move toward the ends.
  • Review finances, remembering their legal obligations.
  • Attend meetings.
  • Be a paid-up member if required.
  • Attend events.
  • Help raise money.
  • Remember what role they are playing at any given moment; sometimes they are policymakers, and sometimes they are volunteers.

These Things Are Flexible:

  • Who runs the meetings
  • How often meetings are held
  • Who takes the minutes
  • What types of committees are set up?  By function, i.e. public relations, fundraising, program planning, etc. By program, i.e. music, youth events, festival, education, etc. By experience, i.e. newest board members are the planners, medium experiences are programmers, and oldest members are the fundraisers.
  • Who represents the organization in public and to other groups
  • Structure, including committees, staff, job descriptions, and number of board members. Set up the structure the best way to accomplish your mission

Adapted from
Missouri Association of Community Arts Agencies
Filebox Organizational Development Manual and Legal & Financial Primer