The table below contrasts the roles of the board, executive director, and staff (including volunteers) in a typical not-for-profit organization (this structure is common in for-profit organizations too, with the person in charge called ‘president’).


Board members are typically part-time and donate their time.  Often they have subject-area experience, for example a legal or financial background.  They work with macro parameters that reflect organizational success.  They hire and rely upon the Executive Director to prepare plans, policies, budgets, etc, for their consideration and approval – they don’t have time or detailed knowledge of the organization to do that work themselves, but collectively have the experience to recognize and approve plans and strategies that will move the organization toward its goals.


The table below is courtesy of BOARDWALK: Board Development for Community Organizations, a volunteer Board Development program of the United Way Ottawa-Carleton, in co-operation with the YMCA-YWCA of Ottawa.




(staff and volunteers)

Is accountable and legally responsible for the organization

Manages day-to-day operations of the organization

Carries out the work of the organization

Promotes the organization in the community

Seeks community support and understanding

Represents ('interfaces') the organization to the community

Interprets the community to the organization

Identifies needs the organization can meet

Understands the clients and the organization

Determines long and short term plans and ensures the means to carry them out

Drafts long and short term plans

Contributes concise and accurate information to the planning process

Establishes a structure to carry out the Board's work

Is an ex-officio member of all Board committees

Assists the Board committees with their work

Sets personnel policy; hires, counsels and evaluates Executive Director

Implements personnel policy; hires, supervises and evaluates staff

Accepts conditions of work as outlines in personnel policy; works as a profession in the team

Sets budget and ensures sufficient funds to meet it

Prepares budget with Treasurer and manages the money

Identifies resource needs and accounts for expenditures

Approves/sets policies (see comment below)

Formulates/recommends policies

Identifies policy gaps and implementation pitfalls

Ensures procedures are established to implement policy

Directs policy implementation and administers the organization

Makes decisions within the policy guidelines and established procedures

Serves as a review panel, providing expertise, wisdom and an objective viewpoint

Provides professional expertise and objective reactions to the Board

Provides professional expertise and objective reactions to the Board and Executive Director

Maintains and builds Board

Supports the Board in fulfilling its role

Stimulates and educates the Board

Monitors the organization's operations

Reports to the Board and acts as liaison between Board and staff

Maintains required records and reports on program implementation

Evaluates the organization's operations

Evaluates program achievements

Provides feedback on program impact


Comments:  “Approves/sets policies” invites board members to indulge in the nearly irresistible urge to dabble and micro-manage.  If it’s hard to draw the line between policies that should be set/approved by the board and those that should be left to the ED, then maybe “policy approval” can cause more distraction and division than it’s worth.  Instead, the board can shape what the Executive Director does by describing a general vision for the organization, and then give the Executive Director latitude to develop appropriate policies within that context.  The board can stay away from details and instead track progress by monitoring key macro parameters.