Dani Robbins

Boards without Staff

In Leadership, Non Profit Boards, Resource Development on November 10, 2013 at 10:23 am

We (being me) talk a lot on this blog about the difference between staff roles and Board roles. Let’s talk today about Boards without staff. Obviously, Boards without staff have to manage all the roles, but how?

The Board President acts as the Executive Director; the Treasurer or Chair of the Finance Committee acts as the bookkeeping staff and so on. Boards without staff tend to be smaller organizations yet …it’s a lot of work!

As mentioned in the Role of the Board, “The Board is responsible for governance, which includes setting the Mission, Vision and Strategic Plan; Hiring, Supporting and Evaluating the CEO; acting as the Fiduciary Responsible Agent, setting Policy and Raising Money.  Everything (Yes, I really mean everything) else is done in concert with the CEO or by the CEO.” When you have no CEO, everything else is also done by the board.

You may be wondering, what, exactly, is everything else?  Everything else is all the components of the CEO’s role and other staff roles too. For more information about that role for a paid leader, please see the Role of the Nonprofit CEO.  A board with no staff takes on some subset of those roles based on their needs, and their capacity. For our purposes, we’re going to review the big buckets.

Marketing and Public Relations

In the absence of a CEO, the Board Chair is the face of the organization. “That means that everything you do, whether at work, at the store or elsewhere – both good and bad – will reflect on the organization.” This counts for other board members too.

The Board is responsible for coming up with a plan to communicate the work of the agency to the community. Donors are much less likely to support you if they don’t understand you, your programming and your impact on the community.

In the absence of staff, this role is usually managed by the Chair of the Marketing Committee.

Resource Development

“The CEO is the chief fund raiser, the chief cheerleader, and the leader in building a culture of philanthropy.”  In all cases, but especially in the case of organizations without paid staff, resource development is a group effort, with everyone giving, and everyone moving toward the goal of a sustainable organization.

The Resource Development Committee is responsible for coming up with a plan to raise funds to support the agency. This plan should include a variety of options including but not limited to special events; grants and individual giving, including board giving, should also be included.

In the absence of staff, this role is usually managed by the Chair of the Resource Development Committee, which also may be called fund raising.

Program Implementation, Management and Evaluation

The Board, in addition to setting the values, mission and vision, in the absence of staff, is also tasked with implementing, managing and evaluating any programming being offered. If it is a direct service agency, that means they are providing the service. If it is a grant making organization, that means they are reviewing and recommending to their peers a set of funding recommendations. It also means they are assessing the impact of the programming and communicating that impact to their donors.

Whatever the agency and whatever the service, in the absence of staff, the board performs all duties, unless they are also managing a corps of volunteers.  This role is usually managed by the Chair of the Program Committee, which may also manage the volunteer program.

Volunteer Management

“Managing a volunteer program takes time. Volunteers should be interviewed and screened, including appropriate criminal background checks and reference checks specific to the role they will be performing. Once selected, they must be trained. Volunteers need to be matched to work that supports their interest and the organization’s needs, then scheduled and assigned work, which must then be supervised.”

Policy, Plans and System Development

Regardless of the agency and the staffing that may or may not be in place, all agencies need some type of infrastructure. This may include a background check policy, financial policy or program policies. It may include resource development, board development or marketing plans. At a minimum it will include a Code of Regulations, the appropriate filing of taxes and other necessary permits and forms.

This role is usually managed by the Executive Committee.

Financial Accounting

In the absence of staff, the financials are usually managed by the Treasurer.  However, allowing one person to manage and control the money in a nonprofit is never a good plan. As such, it is imperative that all agencies, and especially small agencies, build in a system of checks and balances to ensure the proper stewarding of the community’s resources.

Board Development

Board development “is the intentional process by which the board is perpetuated, evaluated, and educated; it has two parts:

Board Building: A diverse board of directors (thought, skill, race, faith, ability, orientation, age, and gender) that is passionate about the mission of the organization is created through a board building process. That process includes an assessment of the current board and needed skill sets, identification of prospective members, and recruitment and nomination of new board members.

Board Education: Board members will fully understand and can effectively fulfill their commitments to the board of directors when a comprehensive orientation, continuing education, and annual evaluation process is in place.

This role is usually stewarded by the Board Development committee, which may also be called Governance, Nominating, or Administrative.”

Serving on a board without staff is a different experience than serving on a board with staff. What’s your experience serving on such a board?  As always, I welcome your insight, feedback and experience. Please share your ideas or suggestions for blog topics and consider hitting the follow button to enter your email. A rising tide raises all boats.

  1. […] I have lots of conversations with boards that have no staff and with executives that are the only staff. We covered the no staff already; if you missed it please see Boards without Staff. […]


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