Nonprofit boards have a serious role -- they ultimately ensure the nonprofit is run legally and ethically. As a board member you'll help define the nonprofit's mission, govern its overall leadership, determine how it meets its goals, ensure that the nonprofit has enough resources to accomplish its work and more. The secretary and treasurer are two of the officer, or leadership, roles on a nonprofit board.
Although there is some room to tailor job descriptions, nonprofit board members most importantly fulfill requirements set by state laws. According to BoardSource, an organization that provides services to nonprofit boards, board officer titles are most often president or chair, vice chair, secretary and treasurer. You can typically find state requirements for board member and officer duties with your state's secretary of state's office. Following state laws, the titles, roles and responsibilities of board officers are then defined in an organization's articles of incorporation, which create the nonprofit as a legal entity, and its bylaws, which describe how the nonprofit will be managed.
A board secretary functions much like a secretary in an office. In general, she takes meeting minutes, ensuring their accuracy; and maintains the board's records and archives for future referral by board members or others, such as the IRS. BoardSource says a customary board secretary will attend all board meetings, serve on the board's executive committee if there is one, ensure the safety and accuracy of all board records, review board minutes, assume responsibilities of the chair in the absence of the board chair and vice chair, and provide notice of meetings when needed.
A secretary's job description might also include more duties. The University of Florida's IFAS Extension, in a sample job description, notes that a board secretary ensures minutes are distributed to members shortly after each meeting. And, she must also be familiar enough with legal documents, such as the organization's articles, by-laws and IRS correspondence, to know when they would be useful during meetings. One job you might not have to do as secretary is take actual minutes, which as a member of the board, could be difficult to do well during meetings when it's important for the secretary to participate in discussions. Instead, a staff member or volunteer might perform this task under the secretary's oversight. In fact, many organizations function without a board secretary, allowing staff to handle the job.
A board treasurer, as the name suggests, focuses on finances. She is responsible for coordinating and ensuring the financial oversight and financial health of the organization for the board, according to BoardSource. A customary board treasurer's job description, BoardSource reports, includes that she attends all board meetings, understands accounting for nonprofits, chairs the finance committee, and manages, with the finance committee, the nonprofit's finances. The treasurer also works with the nonprofit's chief executive and chief financial officer to ensure that appropriate financial reports are given to the board on a timely basis, presents the nonprofit's annual budget for board approval, reviews annual audits and answers board members' questions. The Executive Service Corps of Washington notes that, under the board's direction, a treasurer may also sign and deposit checks for the nonprofit, and with the organization's executive director, select an outside auditor for annual audits.
A Treasurer Don't
The Southern Rural Development Center points out that although the role of the treasurer is to ensure the nonprofit's financial integrity, she does this primarily through reviewing independent annual audits performed by a CPA. So the treasurer should never approach any of the nonprofit's staffers for financial information without the direction of the executive director.
Sometimes, a board will have one person act as the both the secretary and treasurer. In that case, the two job descriptions are simply combined.
- Minnesota Council of Nonprofits: Board Basics
- BoardSource Knowledge Center: Q&As -- What Are the Basic Responsibilities of Nonprofit Boards?
- BoardSource Knowledge Center: Board Glossary
- BoardSource Knowledge Center: Q&As -- What Is the Job Description of a Board Secretary
- University of Florida's IFAS Extension: Nonprofit Organizations and Leadership -- Board of Directors --
- BoardSource Knowledge Center: Q&As -- Can Staff take Over the Board Secretary's Role?
- BoardSource Knowledge Center: Q&As -- What Is the Job Description of a Board Treasurer
- Executive Service Corps of Washington: Best Practice Materials for Nonprofit Boards
Located in the mid-Atlantic United States, Elizabeth Layne has covered nonprofits and philanthropy since 1997, and has written articles on an array of topics for small businesses and career-seekers. An award-winning writer, her work has appeared in "The Chronicle of Philanthropy" newspaper and "Worth" magazine. Layne holds a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from The George Washington University.