Non-profit boards can vary widely, with different responsibilities and expectations for their members. The structure, for example, can be anything from a less-involved group that takes its direction from the organization’s leader, to a fully functioning, hands-on board that essentially runs the non-profit, to boards that fit somewhere in between.
The right board structure depends largely on what your non-profit needs and where it is in its life cycle.
The most common types of non-profit boards are:
- Policy. Policy boards are dedicated to oversight and governance. They are appropriate for non-profits that are staffed by employees or volunteers. Day-to-day duties are handled by those individuals, and the board provides a system of checks and balances that keeps the organization on track.
- Working. These boards often are found in early-stage organizations or in non-profits where there is plenty to do, but not enough hands to do it. Members of working boards could be tasked with everything from defining a long-term funding strategy to stuffing goodie bags for a fundraiser. They must be willing to do grunt work and switch to a more strategic mindset when necessary
- Hybrid. It is not unusual for non-profits to start out with working boards and then transition to a policy-style board as they gain employees and volunteers. In some cases, certain hands-on tasks — such as sourcing and hiring executive staff — may remain the purview of an otherwise strictly policy board.
Define but remain flexible
There are advantages to defining the type of board you have or want to have. First, it helps you to recruit appropriate board members, because candidates will know exactly what is expected of them in terms of time and resources. Second, board and staff will work together more efficiently when everyone is clear about their responsibilities.
As your organization grows and changes, the structure of your board may need to change with it. Just as many growing non-profits shift from a working to a policy board, a policy board may need to take on a more hands-on role in times of crisis — for example, when an executive director abruptly leaves.
Contact us if you have questions about board structure or other non-profit governance topics.