Which board structure is right for your nonprofit?

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Nonprofit 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 nonprofit, to boards that fit somewhere in between.
The right board structure depends largely on what your nonprofit needs and where it is in its life cycle.

The most common types of nonprofit boards are:

1. Policy. Policy boards are dedicated to oversight and governance. They’re appropriate for nonprofits 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.

2. Working. These boards often are found in early-stage organizations or in nonprofits where there’s 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.

3. Hybrid. It’s not unusual for nonprofits 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.

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’s 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 nonprofits 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 nonprofit governance topics.
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