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Your Nonprofit's First Board of Directors

6 Questions and Answers About Your Founding Board


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Why Does My Startup Nonprofit Need a Board?

First, it is a legal requirement. A nonprofit is a corporation, and, just like their for-profit cousins, nonprofit corporations exist independently of the people who founded them. Nonprofit corporations must be governed legally and ethically by a board of directors. Even if your organization has very few, or even no, staff it must have a board.

Who Should Be On My Nonprofit's First Board?

Founding board members are very special. They usually know the founder/s of the organization and believe strongly in its cause. The board might be made up of those people who were interested in your mission early on, or it could be a group of people who came up with the idea for the organization and worked together to get it started.

Either way, the founding board will guide the nonprofit through the process of organizing as a nonprofit corporation and applying to the IRS for tax-exempt status. Being on a founding board is hard work, so members need to be willing to devote considerable time and energy to the organization.

How Many Board Members Are On a Startup Nonprofit's Board?

The state in which you incorporate your nonprofit will set the guidelines for the minimum number of board members that should be on your board. A minimum of three is typical. The minimum number will be indicated on your state's incorporation documents. The size beyond the minimum really depends on the organization's needs. Make a list of the tasks that need to be done and match your board members to that. Tasks and board members should be well matched so that everyone has enough to do, but no one is overwhelmed.

Should We Stagger Board Member Terms?

Yes, staggering board member terms insures that there is always fresh talent coming onto your board. If you start with, say, three board members, ask them to agree to staggered terms. For instance, one could serve one year, one could serve two years, and the third could serve for three years. You'll want to specify in your articles of incorporation and bylaws what the maximum term is for board members going forward.

What Skills Should Be Represented on a Startup Nonprofit Board?

That depends on your organization's mission. But, generally, it is good to have a mix of basic skills that could include financial, marketing, technical, entrepreneurial, legal, and social service skills. But don't overlook the value of people who are not professionals, such as a parent of a child your nonprofit serves or a volunteer who is heavily involved in your work. Passion and commitment are just as important, if not more so, than specific skills.

What Should Every Nonprofit Board Member Know About Serving?

That serving on a nonprofit board has serious fiduciary, legal, and ethical responsibilities. Board members can be held accountable for dereliction of their duties.

Board members are expected to help support the organization financially and to help raise funds.

Board members need to understand the difference between the responsibilities of the board and of the staff. For instance, the board sets policy, and staff implement those policies. The board hires the executive director, but the ED hires the rest of the staff and runs the organization.

More about nonprofit boards at Nonprofit Boards - Find Them, Feed Them, Put Them to Work and 7 Essential Tips for Starting a Nonprofit.

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  3. Nonprofit Charitable Orgs
  4. Starting a Nonprofit
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  6. Your Nonprofit's First Board of Directors

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