Boards and Governance

Never before has the role of nonprofit board members been so important. With many nonprofits stretched beyond capacity trying to meet serious community needs with constricting financial resources, board members must provide both strategic leadership and steady stewardship, with a focus on financial sustainability.

The tools and resources in this section reflect the trends and challenges currently facing nonprofit leaders. Because of the importance of good governance practices, the first resources listed are those that address key governance topics:

Additional Resources

Historically, the structure of charitable nonprofits in America has placed sizable responsibilities on board members. These part-time, usually unpaid, board members are tasked with legal obligations of serving as fiduciaries to ensure that the nonprofit’s assets serve a public benefit. Board members also serve the role of visionaries, community leaders, cheerleaders for their nonprofit’s mission, and ambassadors to donors, potential donors, volunteers, and clients/consumers of the nonprofit’s services.

Q: Can nonprofit board members be paid?

A: The vast, indeed overwhelming majority of board members of charitable nonprofits are unpaid volunteer members of their boards of directors. It is extremely rare for board members of charitable nonprofits in the United States to be paid.

"Charities should generally not compensate persons for service on the board of directors except to reimburse direct expenses of such service. ... Charities may pay reasonable compensation for services provided by officers and staff. In determining reasonable compensation, a charity may wish to rely on the rebuttable presumption test of section 4958 of the Internal Revenue Code and Treasury Regulation section of 53.4958-6." Source: IRS publication Governance and Related Topics - 501(c)(3) Organizations (2008)

Board members of nonprofit organizations may find themselves a bit overwhelmed by the task of bringing their nonprofit up to speed with the most current governance practices. It’s a hard task. Even so, it is the responsibility of each nonprofit’s board of directors, individually and collectively, to identify, adopt, and implement policies and practices of good governance.

Many board members do not realize that certain documents must be made available to the public.

If you would like these website resources to feature more information on any particular topic, please let us know. Also, if you are interested in keeping up to date with developments in the governance area, be sure to sign up for the National Council of Nonprofits’ free e-Newsletter, Nonprofit Knowledge Matters, from the side bar on any page of this website.

Remember that State Associations of nonprofits offer capacity building trainings and affordable webinars on governance topics, as well as opportunities to network with your peers. Some State Associations also offer resources for matching board members with nonprofits.

Also visit the section on Boards and Governance in the Council of Nonprofits' online bookstore.