Wisconsin Historical Society

Guide or Instruction

The Functions and Responsibilities of Your Nonprofit Board

Nonprofit Board Functions and Responsibilities | Historic Preservation | Wisconsin Historical Society

The core responsibility of your nonprofit board of directors is to govern your organization. Board governance is a group action—individual board members have no governance authority. As part of its governance authority, your board has basic moral and legal responsibilities. Board members cannot make decisions for your organization that yield personal benefits.

Key Board Functions

The key functions of your nonprofit board are as follows:

  • Create policies, guidelines, and structures that direct and support your organization's operations
  • Develop a strategic plan to execute your organization's mission
  • Develop and execute fundraising plans and strategies (some organizations require board members to contribute money directly to the organization)
  • Monitor the financial health of your organization
  • Act as a fiduciary for your organization's members and donors
  • Cultivate a productive working environment for staff (if there is one), volunteers, and members
  • Serve as your organization's primary ambassadors
  • Work directly with staff members to implement plans and amend policies and procedures as your organization grows

Board Member Responsibilities

Each member of your nonprofit board applies his or her expertise, passion, and commitment to ensure the health and success of your organization. Each board member must play his or her part to:

  • Establish a sense of inclusiveness
  • Keep on task at board meetings
  • Recognize individual and group achievements
  • Ensure all members have the information and training they need to make good decisions

Ideally, a partnership exists among the individual board members, the board as a group, and staff members to accomplish your organization's goals. Every board member should work on this partnership to get things done. This is part of governance.

Working Board Versus Governing Board

When board members do the day-to-day work of an organization, such as staffing a booth at a conference or keeping an organization's books, they often identify themselves as a working board. If your organization is relatively new or has a small budget, your board members may take on the roles of a working board. As a nonprofit organization grows, its board tends to shift  from a working role to a purely governing role.

Challenges and Opportunities

Today, your nonprofit organization must navigate new challenges, such as the sharp increase in the number of nonprofit organizations vying for contributions and an extended recession.

New technologies and internet advocacy tools can help your nonprofit handle these challenges by allowing your organization to communicate to a broader audience. Communication with a broader audience may allow you to expand the generational diversity on your board. The fresh perspectives offered by this diversity can help your board learn how to apply these new opportunities to achieve your organization's mission and goals.

Learn More

Find more how-to articles about historic preservation advocacy.

You can learn more about nonprofit operations from the Nonprofit Management Education Center offered by the Center for Community and Economic Development, which is part of the University of Wisconsin Division of Cooperative Extension. This resource includes a library of articles and an Organizational Assessment Tool.