The Board of Directors is a required component of most nonprofit organizations; these are the folks who determine (direct) the activities of the organization, provide governance, oversee the Executive Director and ultimately are responsible for the business of the organization. Board members bear the legal responsibility for the nonprofit – this is their fiduciary responsibility, operating in trust for the best interests of the nonprofit.  So, who and what is nonprofit board member, and what do they do?

There are basically two types of boards of directors:

ONE:  Governance

First, there is governance, a straightforward concept. It includes supervising the organization’s Executive Director ( the director charged with executing the direction of the board), assuring both legal and financial matters are well managed and insuring the organization is moving in the direction according to the strategic plan.

Good nonprofit governance is about focusing on the process for making and implementing smart decisions that will advance the principles and mission, provide strategic goals, planning and leadership for their organization.

BUT, nonprofit governance has a dual focus: achieving the organization’s social mission and  ensuring the organization is viable; in other words, assure that there is enough money, staff and facilities to deliver the mission.

TWO: Fundraising

Second, the other type includes being the face of the organization to the community—and, traditionally, participating in raising funds for the organization. These types of boards don’t involve themselves in the day to day operation of the organization; their primary responsibility is to focus on community outreach and fund acquisition for the programs determined by the board.

These boards are typically ‘Friends of’ type of boards, Friends of the Library, Friends of the Opera, Friends of the Animal Shelter. Operating in conjunction with the management of the organization, fundraising boards focus their energy on community outreach, ambassadorship and yes, raising money rather than focusing on operations. They work in conjunction with the organization together to fund important, new or expanding programs.

This last item on the list (money) is often a third rail for directors. See below for a few ways to help them avoid this…..

 The 4 Roles of a Board Member:

Board members are a vital and crucial part of the public face of the organization.


There are different roles that define what parts each Board member can play; each one contributes to the strength of the organization.


  1. Visionary: The first role is providing leadership for  both organizational goals fundraising strategies and targets.  This includes charting a path forward by deciding whether the organization will be growing, shrinking, or shifting focus of current programs.  These decisions determine the direction of fundraising goals and plans for how to achieve them. Having a clear long term vision for future objectives will create the intention and timeline for development programming. The way the group functions is a reflection of the culture and behavior of the board at the highest level of decision making.
  2. Contributor :The second major role of the board  is as donors to the organization. It is important  that your goal as a non-profit should be to have 100% board participation.  Every board member should be donating something to your organization every year ( the actual amounts can be determined internally). This is critical for grant applications and it always seems to me that it is pretty hard for a board member to ask others for money if they will not donate themselves.
  3. Emissary: The third very important fundraising role is that each and every one of your board members needs be serving as an ambassador for your organization. This means introducing new people to the organization, increasing the profile of the organization among their network and connections.  Key point: the role of ambassador does not require the board member to approach each opportunity as the time to ask for support, that comes down the road a bit.
  4. Support Fundraising: Last, but for sure not least, is the role of fundraising support. Most board members blanche at the thought of asking for money- a basic human reaction to the possibility of rejection. And while most of the time the rejection is not personal, it can feel that way to the asker.  This means that the conversation is an not an  ask; this can be a fun and enjoyable way for board members to interact with donors- calling to thank a donor for a gift, attending a fundraising event or participating in a fundraising meeting.



As you consider candidates to add to your board, it is crucial for you to be clear about the expectations you will have for each board member: how much time will they need to commit, how much board dues will be, if there is a give-or-get option, how frequent and long are board meetings, what are the board terms and other fun things like this. Problems arise when there is a lack of clarity and understanding. Be specific, you can always change things later on, be sure there is clear understanding on both sides from the outset.

Have a written agreement, have your requirements and expectations spelled out, sometimes a contract is a good idea. Don’t be vague or hand-wavy. Keep these copies and refer to them should any questions arise. 


Great Board Members Are Made, Not Born

Creating a strong, cohesive and effective board of directors can be considered the holy grail of nonprofit board management: it can be tough but it can be done. With honesty and clarity, making sure the board is operating out of the same playbook can go along way toward effective fundraising which is what we all want. 


Need some help getting your board ready for great results?


Call today and let’s get underway.             310 828 6979


If you have come this far, thanks for reading!




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