Volunteer and staff roles and responsibilities

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Did you know that the word volunteer comes from Latin, and can be translated as "will" (as in doing something out of one’s own free will)? In not-for-profit organizations, volunteer leaders are the proverbial airplane pilots unless, of course, yours is a staff-drive association, in which case volunteer leaders are the air traffic controllers. Regardless of your governance approach, it is important to delineate volunteer versus staff roles and responsibilities to ensure a smooth and safe flight for the passengers - your members.

This article offers a checklist for you to use to delineate your organization’s roles and responsibilities; we offer some suggestions as guidelines that come from our experiences of working with high performing boards. A key point to remember is that activities that are the board or volunteer leaders’ responsibilities can be delegated to staff or third parties, but the volunteer remains accountable to the membership.

Volunteer (insert name of position)
Staff (insert name of position)
Suggestions re: Roles and Responsibilities
Selection of governance system     The board should recommend a governance system to the Annual General Meeting for the membership’s approval.
Formulation of the vision, mission, goals and strategic priorities; content in the strategic plan     Board responsibility - may appoint a task force to draft content with staff support.
Implementing the strategic plan     Typically the board chair is the champion of the strategic plan’s implementation, with staff and other volunteer leader support.
Bylaw changes     The board should recommend bylaw changes to the Annual General Meeting for the membership’s approval - may appoint a task force or hire an expert consultant to draft content with staff support.
Setting of policies and procedures     Board establishes policies; staff draft procedures on how the policies will be implemented and these procedures are presented to the board for their approval.
Volunteer recruitment     Best initiated by active volunteers and supported by staff - unless you have a volunteer recruitment staff department.
Board recruitment     Board responsibility - can delegate to nominating committee but should identify skills sets and experience required on the board team.
Formation and management of chapters, divisions, interest groups, etc.     Board should get membership’s approval to form a chapter unless an approval process exists for the board to use. Board can delegate management functions to staff but remain accountable.
Selection of senior staff person     Board of directors - which may appoint a selection committee to prepare recommendations.
Hiring, managing, evaluation, and termination of senior staff person     Board (not chair/president)
Hiring, managing and termination of support staff     Senior staff person
Financial stewardship     Board with staff support
Production of financial reports     Usually a staff or outsourced bookkeeper function and submitted to the board for approval.
Asset stewardship     Board with staff support
Compliance with laws and regulations     Board with staff support
Receiving external auditors’ reports     Board
Work of committees, task forces, etc.     Committees and task forces should be accountable to the board unless it is a staff committee with clear Terms of Reference.
Government relations/lobbying     While primarily a volunteer leader role, senior staff members who are trained often participate in lobbying work.
Organization spokesperson     While traditionally the board chair, in some organizations it is established that the senior staff person serves as spokesperson.
Approving new programs     Board unless they have delegated such work to committees or staff.
Managing conflicts of interest     Board
Event logistics     Staff working under the strategic director of volunteer leaders.
Quality internal reporting     Staff responsible for producing operating reports, minutes, etc.
Flow of information to board members     The senior staff person is best to be the single point of contact to board members; exceptions are made in large organizations.
Flow of information to members and the public     Board should approve a communications strategy and plan that governs who tells what to whom, how (e.g. website treatment).
Fundraising     While often a staff or fundraising consultant responsibility, fundraising should be an activity for every board member, in addition to their approving fundraising programs.
Succession planning     The board should ensure succession planning is in place for not only volunteer leaders, but also for the senior staff person.
Risk management     Identifying potential risks and planning for the avoidance or mitigation of same is a board responsibility.
Serve as an organization ambassador     Every member of the volunteer and staff team should serve as an ambassador for the organization, promoting its value and inviting support.

While this is not an exhaustive list, it does offer examples of how to plot all of the major activities of an organization and ensure that individuals are clear who is accountable versus responsible.

Paulette in President of Solution Studio Inc., a consulting practice that serves the not-for-profit association community. Paulette co-authored two manuscripts on risk management & not-for-profit organizations and regularly conducts risk management, strategic planning and board development workshops. She can be reached at 1-877-787-7714 or Paulette@solutionstudioinc.com.

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