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The First Board Members: How to Start a Nonprofit Board

How to Start a Nonprofit Board

The Importance of Your First Board Members

how to start a nonprofit board and what the first board members do

We all know that you have to start a nonprofit board in order to start a nonprofit. Outside of a legal requirement, the board can help your nonprofit grow and share some of the responsibility for managing the entity you’ve created. A solid board of directors can help guide your organization, offer advice and assistance as you grow, and allow you to have the maximum impact on the community. Your earliest board members will be devoted to your cause, already interested in what you do, and ready to help you achieve success.

Your first board will set the tone and structure for your nonprofit and for future boards, so taking the time to set things up properly is essential. Once a board is in place, much of the burden of management and growth is lifted from the founder, making it easy to work on the big picture and grow the organization.

When should your nonprofit launch a board?

Of course, a board is necessary to have in place to acquire 501(c)3 status. But beyond those requisite board members, for the initial paperwork, when should you start a full nonprofit board? A nonprofit that is growing and that is serving the community, but having trouble keeping up with growth and managing the mission is ready for the benefits a more robust board brings. If the founder and initial volunteers are overwhelmed or simply can’t find time to do all that needs to be done, a board can lift some of this burden and maximize success.

How to start a nonprofit board:

  • Setup. Clearly define your nonprofit’s goals so you can explain it in a single sentence and you can relay it to potential board members. You should also begin outlining what you want the board to do and how they’ll be governed.
  • Recruiting. You’ll need to find board members who believe in your cause and who can offer useful skill sets to your organization. The best members believe in your mission, have time to give and have experience that will help guide you through the early days of your organization. Often, board members are successful business people and can bring expertise and useful skills to the table – things you might otherwise have to pay out-of-pocket for. Look for enthusiastic members who want to help and who have skills to offer and you’ll launch your board with plenty of talent.
  • Startup. Your board members need to be willing to take on some of the startup tasks. If you already have tax-exempt status and are incorporated, then you’re already on your way. If not, these should be some of your board’s first goals.

Your original board is an active, working board – one that will be more hands-on than any members who follow. In your initial meetings, choose your primary members and begin to work out your organization, hierarchy, and governance. As members are added, assignments and committees can be developed. This allows for the distribution of key tasks and moves things along swiftly.

What does a first board look like?

Your founding board is the most important group you’ll have. They’ll need to set up procedures and plans that will impact your organization for years to come. Members with legal expertise, accounting savvy, business acumen, and who can offer technical support are all valuable additions at this stage.

RELATED: Do You Know the 3 Duties of a Nonprofit Board Member?

Get legal.

Your first board meeting is the formal legal launch of your board as an entity. During this session you’ll need to:

  • Confirm the name, address, and other details for legal documentation
  • Elect official officers
  • Authorize board members to make financial and business decisions for the brand
  • Create or accept bylaws
  • Assign tasks and duties for each member

Your board’s first goals should be to handle the legal, business, and operational tasks that are required for proper management and structure. Once this is done, they can turn their attention and focus to what they do best – making your nonprofit a successful venture.


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