Responsibilities of the Officers

The general duties of the officers of a nonprofit organization are very similar to those in a for-profit corporation. If you decide to use the accepted offices, you will find that the responsibilities for each can apply to almost any organization.

It is a good idea for the initial board to adopt clear definitions of the officers' roles so they become the organization's standard. You can refine the roles to suit your needs, and the responsibilities of each position should be spelled out in your by-laws so future boards and their officers can follow your guidance and your example.

President

The board president is responsible for much more than facilitating the meetings of the board of directors. The board president will become the public face of the organization, the contact person for every question anyone in the community may want to ask.

She will also be the main advocate for everything your organization is trying to do, from attending early morning business breakfasts to arranging lines of credit to overseeing programming issues to facilitating board and community meetings. It is common for the board president to be one of the organization's check-signers. Although she won't manage the financial data, she should always have access to it.

Meetings may be conducted in any manner the group agrees to, from consensus all the way to strict adherence to Robert's Rules of Order. Unless everyone on the board can recite Robert's Rules from memory, a modified consensus is the best option. In other words, if general agreement without a formal vote (consensus) cannot be reached, only then is a formal recorded vote taken.

As the organization grows and more people join at a decision-making level, either as staff or committee members, many of the initial board president's roles will diminish. In the beginning, however, the initial board president should be called upon to do many tasks.

Vice President

The official role of a vice president is to be available when the president is temporarily unable to fulfill her responsibilities or to be readily available as a permanent replacement should the president need to step down. On a volunteer board, the responsibilities go much further.

The vice president needs to be aware of everything that goes on in the organization, from knowing what the committees are working on to being familiar with the status of any programming. He must be able to step in and work in partnership with the president when needed. The vice president also needs to be available to take on special projects such as chairing a committee on short notice.

Secretary

There are actually two independent roles the secretary needs to assume. The internal role, often referred to as a recording secretary, involves generating and filing all of the group's corporate documents, minutes of meetings, general mailing lists, and databases in a safe place. The secretary takes accurate minutes during every board or public meeting and collects the minutes from the committee meetings. The secretary is also responsible for cleaning up rough meeting notes that will become part of the permanent record of the organization.

A standardized template for recording board or committee meeting minutes will make the secretary's job much easier. Taking minutes on a laptop is generally acceptable, and having a template eliminates the need for repetitive writing.

The second role, which can certainly be filled by the same person, is external and is often referred to as a correspondence secretary. Her ongoing task is to handle all the official correspondence of the organization. These tasks have greatly expanded in the electronic age to include monitoring all e-mail traffic, keeping the organization's website current, and anything else that involves communication between the group and the broader community. The board member who assumes this role must be comfortable with e-mail and writing in general and will need to create reports within a regular time frame.

Treasurer

The office of treasurer in a nonprofit also has more than one role. First, the person should maintain the group's financial books of the organization, which involves basic checkbook balancing and bill paying. The treasurer is generally one of the official check-signers and has access to any bank accounts or investments held by the group.

In consultation with the board president and the financial committee, the treasurer is responsible for preparing the yearly financial report for the IRS when you have obtained your tax exemption (IRS Form 990) or for paying any federal corporate taxes if you have not received your tax exemption. The treasurer also makes sure that all local fees and taxes are paid.

Should the treasurer be an accountant?

It's not necessary for the treasurer to be an accountant. A treasurer with an accounting background would be helpful, but it is not a requirement. It is strongly recommended that a periodic audit of your finances be conducted by a certified public accountant (CPA) that has no connection to your organization.

The second role is to assist in developing the yearly operating budget. If projected budgets are necessary to qualify for funding opportunities or at the early stage for your application for nonprofit status, the treasurer should be directly involved in developing these documents for presentation to the full board and outside entities as necessary.

The third role for the treasurer, especially in the early stages of your organization's formation, is to oversee fundraising efforts. This role is not limited to making requests (though every board member needs to learn to do it). Rather, it is an opportunity to work on a long-term development strategy that results in long-term sustainability.

The treasurer needs to be comfortable handling money and working with numbers. Although there are numerous software programs available to help with both budget development and bookkeeping, it is helpful to understand the basics.

Maintaining a Separation of Responsibilities

It is not by chance that the responsibilities of the officers rarely overlap. This separation intentionally provides a minimal level of checks and balances within the organization. The board of directors must assume roles very similar to the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government. However, within nonprofit boards, a much simpler structure has evolved over time that incorporates separation without such stark divisions.

As an example, the person who is responsible for the finances does not facilitate meetings where operational decisions might be made. In turn, the president, who essentially has executive authority, does not handle corporate record keeping.

The importance of this separation will become clearer as your organization develops working committees. Even as all the committees work to further your organization, they may develop competing interests, usually over allocation of limited resources. Setting up your board to separate the needs of programming and operations from your financial and legal elements will create a more productive organization.

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