Clearly written job descriptions help board members understand, and agree to, the role they are expected to play in an organization. Job descriptions, which need to be approved by the board, can also serve a purpose in evaluation and recruitment of board members. One job description can be developed for general board members and then specific descriptions can be developed for each executive officer member (Chair, Vice-Chair, Treasurer and Secretary).
The Muttart Foundation provides an excellent and free online guide to developing board member job descriptions: https://www.muttart.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/Developing-Job-Descriptions-2008.pdf
Of course, sometimes, even when you detail the roles and responsibilities of board members, it’s no guarantee that all board members will follow those guidelines. What do you do when board members are not following their job descriptions, or are not following through on their responsibilities? Check out some good tips in an article called Enforcing Board Member Responsibilities at this link: https://www.nonprofitrisk.org/resources/articles/enforcing-board-member-responsibilities/
Position: What is the job title?
Authority: What authority does the position carry?
Responsibility: To whom is the position accountable? What are the broad areas of responsibility?
Term: How are board members elected and for how long? How do board members leave the board?
General Duties: What are the typical duties board members are responsible for?
Evaluation: How will board members’ effectiveness be assessed?
Qualifications and Skills: What specialized or practical skills are needed to do the job?
Benefits: What benefits can a board member expect to receive?
Depending on the governance structure of the organization executive officers will vary. Some examples of executive officer positions include:
- Chairperson (or president): Chairs board meetings; responsible for conduct of board meetings and of board members; sets and follows agendas; the spokesperson for the organization to the public; often a signing authority on legal and financial documents.
- Vice-chairperson (or vice-president): Fulfills duties of the chairperson in his/her absence.
- Secretary: Takes accurate minutes of board meetings and is responsible for distribution of minutes; keeper of board bylaws, policy statements and board correspondence; maintains database and accurate contact information of current board of directors. (Depending on the board’s governance structure, some or all of these functions may also be assigned to staff with the secretary providing more of a support or oversight role.)
- Treasurer: Accounts for and reports on the funds, budget and expenditures of the organization; often a signing authority on financial documents.
Although not as common, some boards also have a past chairperson (or past president) as an executive officer whose role may be to mentor and support the current chairperson. Some boards may also decide to have a shared leadership model with co-chairs taking turns chairing the meetings rather than having a chair and vice-chairperson.
Executive officers may be elected and/or appointed by the board as a whole or by the broader organizational membership. These positions may also be rotating positions throughout the term of a board. When these positions exist, the board as a whole needs to define the executives’ functions and decide on the amount of authority each title brings with it.
The trusteeship of the organization belongs to the board as a whole, not only to its executive members … the legal responsibility of executive members is to see that things get done, but not necessarily to do them themselves.
(Source: The Non-Profit Board Development Workbook. Edmonton Social Planning Council.)