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Serving on a board of directors is a helpful way to boost your career while you serve your community or profession. While different organizations use different titles for the members of their boards of directors, most use the titles chairperson and director. Knowing the difference between the different positions on a board will help you determine what associations or charities to join and what your responsibilities will be.
Boards of Directors
For-profit corporations and nonprofit entities must have boards of directors to legally incorporate and to oversee their operations. Depending on the size of the organization, a board might take a hands-on role in running the day-to-day activities of the corporation or hire a management company or staff to run the operations. The hierarchy of the board determines the title the organization uses.
The top person on a board of directors is known as the chairman, or chairperson, of the board. This person has the authority to call and lead meetings, sign documents and represent the organization in public, depending on the corporation’s bylaws. Both for-profit and nonprofit corporations have bylaws that specify the roles and duties of board members. The chairperson of the board is a director, and often serves as a non-chair director for several years before taking the chair. Nonprofits often require their chairs to serve terms as general board members, as well as treasurer, secretary and vice chairperson roles for one or two years.
A director is a person who is elected or appointed to serve on a board of directors, with or without additional duties. Some directors head committees or serve as treasurer, secretary, vice chair or chairperson of the board. Other titles they might hold include vice president, first vice president and president. The president title often goes to the chairperson of the board, which he uses when representing the company in public. The vice chair, or first vice president, is the heir apparent to the chairperson.
In addition to the chairperson of the board position, boards appoint committee chairpersons who act as the lead members of committees. These chairs call committee meetings, give committee reports at board of directors meetings and make final recommendations or decisions on behalf of their committees, depending on the authority given to them by the board of directors. Some committee chairs are not board members. For example, if a small, local charity has only three or five board members, it might ask for volunteers to run its events, handle its marketing or maintain its website. The board would appoint a non-member committee chairperson. This person would not have voting authority on board matters.