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Getting involved with nonprofit organizations is an effective way to improve your business skills, expand your work experience, build your network and boost your profile in your industry or profession. Understanding the different roles and responsibilities of nonprofit volunteers, board members and business staff will help you determine the most effective way to become involved in this important sector of society.
Many nonprofits rely on volunteers to work on short-term projects, such as one-time or annual events, or take long-term roles and responsibilities such as handling a business function. Getting involved with a nonprofit as a volunteer allows you to learn about the organization, how it works and who the key people are before you commit to taking on a board or other long-term position. Look for local nonprofits that need a skill you have, such as website design or programming, marketing, accounting or event management.
Committees either perform hands-on work for nonprofits or direct an organization’s paid staff in a specific area. For example, as a volunteer, you might serve on a fundraising committee and put together the organization’s annual banquet, doing most or all of the work with your fellow committee members. If you are a member of a trade association, you might serve on the annual banquet meeting, setting goals, giving paid staff their orders and monitoring their work.
Board of Directors
A board of directors is responsible for ensuring a nonprofit pursues its mission, stays financially sound and meets all of its legal obligations. The board either performs the work necessary to run the organization, or, if it’s a larger nonprofit, manages paid staff to handle day-to-day operations. The chairman of the board calls and runs board meetings and makes appointments, based on the organization’s bylaws, which spell out board member duties. The vice chair acts for the chair when he is not present at official duties. The treasurer oversees the financial responsibilities of the organization, while a secretary keeps the organization’s historical records and takes minutes of its official meetings. Other board members participate in board meetings, vote on official matters and serve on committees.
The executive director or chief executive officer is the business manager of a nonprofit. She might be an employee or a contractor. The executive director has many of the same responsibilities of a for-profit chief executive officer or business owner, but reports to a board of directors and should have knowledge of nonprofit rules and regulations.
Unique to nonprofits is the role of development, which includes activities such as fundraising, political lobbying, public awareness campaigns, donor management and event planning. A development director hires and manages the staff members who perform these duties, working closely with the organization’s board, executive director and finance department. At many nonprofits, the responsibilities of a development director include all marketing duties.
Many nonprofits create advisory boards, which are groups of experts who provide guidance to the organization in specific areas. For example, a trade association might include academics, industry manufacturers and key executives on its advisory board to review its newsletter, magazine and website contents or to help plan the educational component of the organization’s annual meeting.
Sam Ashe-Edmunds has been writing and lecturing for decades. He has worked in the corporate and nonprofit arenas as a C-Suite executive, serving on several nonprofit boards. He is an internationally traveled sport science writer and lecturer. He has been published in print publications such as Entrepreneur, Tennis, SI for Kids, Chicago Tribune, Sacramento Bee, and on websites such Smart-Healthy-Living.net, SmartyCents and Youthletic. Edmunds has a bachelor's degree in journalism.