Nonprofit boards vary wildly in their effectiveness, from barely functional to highly effective. One thing that sets the effective boards apart from the less so is a solid understanding of the board’s function and how each board member fits in.
No piece of paper can change the culture of a board overnight, but if your board doesn’t have a job description, writing one can help. For effective boards, it codifies the roles and responsibilities that the board has taken on and help perpetuate what works. For struggling boards, the act of deciding what the board should do starts a conversation that can help improve the board’s ability to do its job.
A board has two over-riding responsibilities: governance and (usually) fund-raising. Most board members take easily to one of these jobs but need to be reminded to do the other. Or they aren’t sure what their role is besides showing up and eating cookies at the meetings. A job description for the board can lay out exactly what the board and its members are responsible for doing so that everyone knows what they are agreeing to when they join the board.
Developing a job description for the executive director at the same time allows the board to make sure that all responsibilities are assigned to either the board or the executive director but not both; this avoids gaps and overlaps that keep the organization from running smoothly.
This sample set of job descriptions will give you a place to start if your board doesn’t have one or needs to update one. Adapt it to fit your organization, depending on the strengths of your board and executive director, and the work you need to accomplish. Your board may be expected to put in work on programming. There may be other groups, such as granting agencies or important committees, that need to be incorporated. Your staff may need credentials or specific skills of some sort. The job descriptions should reflect all of this.
The conversations needed to customize the job descriptions will be a useful exercise for the board; be sure to allow time for it. And once they are agreed upon, make sure they are used when recruiting new staff and board members. Plan to review them at least annually so everyone gets a refresher course on what they agreed to; this is a good time to make sure they still reflect the jobs to be done.