Roles and Responsibilities of Nonprofit Boards

Starting off right

Start your new board members off on the right foot with an orientation program that  introduces them to the basic roles and responsibilities of serving as a nonprofit board member. Don't forget to include those special issues that pertain specifically to your nonprofit's mission, plus information on: governance policies (so that all board members are reminded about their legal and fiduciary duties); accountability practices (such as the need to disclose conflicts of interest); and the responsibility to review and approve the executive director's performance and compensation.

When board members are recruited, consider using a board member agreement to ensure that everyone's on the same page.All board members are ambassadors to the community and advocates for the nonprofit's mission.

And for your nonprofit's officers (President, Secretary, Treasurer, etc.) - make sure they understand what is expected for the specific roles they will be playing as officers of the nonprofit.

Where can we find educational experiences for board members?

Not everyone is familiar with the roles and responsibilities of board members for charitable nonprofits. Many State Associations of nonprofits offer brown-bag lunches, roundtables, webinars, and in-person seminars on governance topics, including board roles and responsibilities. Other community-based sources for board education include: local volunteer centers, community foundations, and university/college nonprofit management programs. Another local option is to seek probono consulting or engage a consultant with expertise in nonprofit management to work directly with the board members of your nonprofit. If your nonprofit is not able to engage a consultant, or identify an appropriate volunteer to lead a training session for your nonprofit's board, consider using this free on-line training on Board Basics developed by CompassPoint. On a national level, BoardSource is a leading authority on board governance issues, and offers numerous publications as well as a national leadership conference, webinars, and in-person seminars.

Tips and Tools for Engaging Board Members

  • Assign each new board member a veteran board member to serve as his/her mentor.
  • Include an educational agenda item for board members at every board meeting or bring the mission to the meeting through facility tours, introductions to clients (assuming confidentiality is not an issue), or discussions about trends or issues in the community that affect the nonprofit's programs or clients/constituents.
  • After the first few months of a board member’s service, ask him/her to complete a confidential self-evaluation to help shape a conversation with the Board Chair (or chair of the board development/governance committee) about how the new board member is adjusting to his or her board service. 
  • Try inviting staff to board meetings periodically to make short presentations on a program area or current issue as a way to keep the board engaged and up-to-speed.
  • 12 Ways to liven up your board meetings and your board (Gail Perry)


Resources for all-volunteer boards:

State specific resources (many published by the state attorneys general):

Challenges and Trends for Boards to Watch

  • Do your board members understand the importance of outcomes and performance measurement? Help board members take the Leap of Reason.

For more resources, visit our online bookstore / Boards and Governance section .