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Nonprofit Boards Need Love Too....and Training!


Nonprofit management carries many responsibilities, the least of which is effectively managing a volunteer Board of Directors. The key word is “managing.” 

Nonprofit leaders make the mistake of assuming that their nonprofit board members are equipped to be Board members.  Board members are given a brochure about the organization, perhaps a tour and that’s it, but there’s so much more to learn about nonprofit Board service.

According to the 2021 Leading with Intent Report, published by BoardSource, there is a strong correlation between a Board’s understanding of their role and responsibilities and their performance across all areas including fundraising, legal oversight and financial oversight.

It is imperative to the growth and sustainability of a nonprofit organization to have a strong Board of Directors. The recruitment and selection process are the first two factors to consider, but orientation and training are even more important.

Nonprofit executives, are often times so excited to begin their new duties, that that they neglect to train the board that they’ve inherited and they assume that all board members are knowledgeable about their roles and responsibilities. Furthermore, they fail to properly orient new board members, adding to the disconnect.

There are three different hats that nonprofit board members tend to wear and the trick is teaching them which one fits the needs of the organization.

The Policy Hat: When a volunteer is wearing the board member “hat,” policy and governance are their primary roles:  not the operational details, which is the staff’s role.  The Executive Director/CEO is the only staff person over which the board has authority.  All other staff fall under the responsibility of the Executive Director/CEO, not the board.

The Committee Hat: The second “hat” which a volunteer board member might wear is that of a committee member.  In this role, the volunteer is acting in an advisory role only.  There is no line of authority over any staff.  The staff person assigned to the committee is also in an advisory role to the committee and has no authority over the committee.

The Unpaid Performer Hat: The third “hat” which a volunteer board member might wear is that of unpaid staff.  In this role the volunteer is performing a program service (e.g. serving food at the soup kitchen or taking tickets at a concert) and is directly responsible to the staff person who has been assigned supervisory responsibility.

In addition, every board member should have a handbook as a reference and reminder of their orientation and/or training.

Many nonprofit organizations get into trouble when the executive and board are not in alignment because the board members don’t understand which hat they are to wear.  A nonprofit board orientation can correct any ambiguity about their roles and responsibilities. Understanding the roles and lines of authority can greatly reduce the tensions between the nonprofit executive and board members. 

The orientation should include the history of the organization, its mission, vision and values, bylaws, the roles and responsibilities (Legal and financial oversight, advocacy, fundraising, meeting schedule and expectations of time commitment), proof of Directors & Officers insurance coverage, tour(s) of facilities, conflicts of interest overview and board member ethical standards.  In regards to the conflict of interest and ethical standards, don’t just hand it out and have members to sign it. Take time to discuss the documents and provide examples of what is and is not a conflict of interest, and a high level of ethical standards.

In addition, include a discussion on the do’s and don’ts.  Here is a basic list:


* Be generous with your time and checkbook. “Raise money and raise interest,” as the saying goes. Attend meetings, events and provide financial support. 

* Understand the mission of the organization. 

* Pay attention. Be aware of what is happening within the ranks of your board and be sensitive to the needs of your community. 

* Be prepared to work hard and check your ego at the door. 

* Welcome new ideas and the potential for growth and change.

* Support the CEO!


* Don’t micro-manage or interfere with staff members. The Board has one employee – that’s the CEO.  The CEO has the responsibility of the staff of the organization. 

* Don’t allow ego, personal issues or petty disputes build discord among board members or CEO.  

* Don’t work against policies or decisions that have board approval. You may object, but do not impede; and don’t criticize those who sacrifice their time to help your organization. 

* Don’t accept “that’s the way we’ve always done it” as a response.

* Don’t make promises or commit the organization to anything without consent.


For more Board training contact me at and for more articles, podcast and videos on nonprofit management visit





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