Scavenger Hunt: Job Descriptions

Welcome to our basic document Scavenger Hunt! In this section we will ask you to find existing documents and policies your board of directors should have. If your board gives you a policy book at the start of your term or on an annual basis – awesome. If not, this is a great chance to find the following documents and policies and begin to compile a universal resource for your board and leadership staff.

The first item on the scavenger hunt is: Basic Job Descriptions.

Job descriptions are a much-needed reference for all board members and employees. They are a touchstone for easy reference, keep everyone focused on the tasks assigned to them, and create a strong foundation upon which the organization can stand. If you don’t have job descriptions, or if your job descriptions are out-of-date, there can be unneeded overlap and confusion in duties and boundaries.

Job descriptions are also a wonderful tool to have on-hand for the nominating committee. The recruitment of new board members and succession planning are vitally important to overall board and organizational health. Having job descriptions in an FAQ or welcome packet for potential board members will aid (and ease) the recruitment process.

Board Member Job Descriptions

Often, board members do not have a complete understanding of their roles and responsibilities. We’ve discussed the three duties – duty of care, duty of loyalty and duty of obedience – already. Job descriptions greatly aid in the definition of roles, responsibilities and overall efficient functioning of the organization. First and foremost is the understanding that only the Board President/Chairperson can speak on behalf of the board. The President’s messaging is based upon agreed-upon talking points and views derived from the board of directors itself; this refers directly back to a board’s duty of loyalty.

What does a board member do?
  • You are the governing body of your organization, setting policies, bylaws, protocols and controls.
  • You drive the vision of the organization, ensuring that the goals are realistic, match your mission and are aligned with the needs of the community in which you operate.
  • You monitor the progress of the organization, matching progress with stated goals and being watchful of “mission creep.”
  • You oversee your organization’s financial stability, not just now but for the future as well.
  • You provide adequate risk management structures including record keeping, financial reporting and liability coverage.
  • You ensure a well-rounded and on-boarded board of directors.
  • You define the board’s scope of work including committees and special projects. You evaluate your scope of work annual and adjust through board retreats and discussion.
  • You define the role of the CEO and hire accordingly.
  • You are aware of, and ensure compliance with, all relevant laws and regulations.
  • You support the management team and act as a resource but do not micromanage.
  • You act as a voice for the community and a resource for problem solving.

Quick Take:

What a board of directors does
  1. Appoints the executive director (ED) or CEO
  2. Supports the ED/CEO and develops a productive mechanism for performance review
  3. Understands and is able to articulate the organization’s mission and purposes
  4. Publicly supports all actions of the board
  5. Approves budgets and policies, delegating all financial and personnel management to the ED/CEO
  6. Ensures that the organization has adequate resources to accomplish its plans
  7. Requests and reviews the appropriate financial documents on a regular basis
  8. Plans for leadership succession and continued board development
What a board of directors does not
  1. Does not interfere with the ED’s authority to hire, fire and evaluate staff
  2. Does not become involved in the day-to-day management of issues
  3. Does not serve on the boards of competing organizations
  4. Does not take a public position criticizing the organization
  5. Does not have a negative personal agenda

So, here are some questions: 

  • Do you have board member job descriptions?
  • Do you have descriptions for all members of the executive committee (president/vice president/treasurer/secretary/at-large)?
  • Do you have job descriptions for your committee chair positions?

If you do, congratulations! If not, it is something you should start to gather and create. In either instance, you should continue reading in order to better understand the elements needed for an effective job descriptions.

Board member job description

Elements of a basic board member job description include much of what we’ve listed above. A basic board member job description includes being aware of and following all state and federal laws as pertains to nonprofit organizations, fair adjudication and decision making, evaluation of the organization’s CEO or Executive Director (if applicable), strategic and tactical planning, financial and fiduciary responsibilities, attendance at board meeting, participation on committees, fulfillment of bylaws, leverage skills and connections to ensure the sustainability of the organization, assistance in fundraising efforts, etc.

More reading:

Executive Committee Member Job Descriptions

Board Chair/President

The board chairperson is the leading voice and guiding hand of the organization. Referring back to our duties, the board chairperson is the main conduit of information to the outside world. The chair is the leader of the board of directors, facilitates board meetings, works closely with the CEO or Executive Director (if applicable), helps the board to navigate the organization’s stated strategic and tactical plans, monitors the financial stability of the organization and works with the Executive Committee and Board Development/Nominating Committee on board succession and leadership training.

More reading:

Vice Chair/VP

Typically, the person in the vice-chair role is being groomed to fill the chair position in the near future. It is a training role, acting as support to the board chairperson and filling in on chairperson duties when the elected chair cannot be present.

More reading:


The secretary is a vital position on the executive committee and is responsible for the main flow of information, record-keeping and scheduling. Board secretaries send out notification of board meetings, board agendas, board packets and board votes. In addition, they keep board meeting minutes and maintain all corporate records as per state and federal laws and nonprofit best practices.

More reading:


The board treasurer is responsible for the organization’s financial management and oversight, preparation of financial reports, management of filings, permits and licenses, identification and management of risks (liability and financial), plans and evaluates the organization’s budget with the assistance of the finance committee and works with the nominating committee to recruit the next treasurer.

More reading:

At-Large Member

Many organizations do not have a dedicated role for an at-large member on their Executive Committee, but it is a role worth investigating if not implementing. An at-large member serves as a liaison between the executive committee, the organization’s membership and board committees. The role is one that allows a relatively new member to the board (first or second year) to begin the leadership training necessary for a higher-level role including chair, vice chair, secretary or treasurer. The duties of an at-large member can be defined by the organization’s by-laws, organizational goals, or areas within the organization that need special care.

Committee Chair

Committee chairpeople should also have a written job description. Their responsibility is not only to the goals and actions of the organization but also the goals and actions of their committee, committee members and the duties they undertake. Committee chairs should be a member of the board – and most bylaws explicitly state this. The chair sets the tone for the committee, assigns tasks, provides accurate information to committee members, oversees and evaluates the actions of the committee, reports progress to the board chair and to the entire board through either a board packet or at the board meeting, works with the CEO or Executive Director (if applicable) to ensure efficient and effective actions are taken,

More reading:


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  1. Pingback: A quick review

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