Of all the leadership positions on the nonprofit board, the board secretary role is often the most misunderstood and underappreciated. Most people assume that the title “Secretary” is synonymous with the term “note-take”’ and that the secretary’s only function is to accurately record minutes during board meetings.
However, that’s not at all the case. There are countless responsibilities tied to this position, from lining up meetings to helping board members stay accountable for their tasks. The board secretary is a vital puzzle piece for any nonprofit organization, and without a skilled and organized individual in this position, your team may struggle to maintain efficiency.
Whether you’re a nonprofit board secretary or another member of the board, taking the time to fully understand the role and its correlating responsibilities will allow you to make the most of the position. Luckily, we’re here to help!
Board secretaries have an important role in governance. Does your board have all these bases covered?
At Boardable, we’ve supplied thousands of nonprofit boards with board management software to help them go further than they thought possible. We’ve seen the challenges these teams face, and after working closely with a diverse range of individuals and causes, we understand what it takes to be a standout leader. Based on this background knowledge, we’ve built this end-to-end guide on the board secretary position. Here’s what we’ll cover:
With all the misunderstanding surrounding this role, the board secretary position can often seem like a thankless job. If you’re ready to expand your knowledge on this important position, let’s dive in!
A board secretary will be most useful to an organization when they possess skills that complement the job role. For one, this person must be extremely driven and detail-oriented to stay on top of every task thrown their way, but there is a wide range of other skills this individual should naturally have.
To be a standout leader, your board secretary needs to have:
These attributes are the core of any effective nonprofit secretary, regardless of your organization’s size or cause. If you’re looking for more specific advice on selecting a qualified secretary, here’s how our expert team explains the qualifications based on organizational size in our guide to board member responsibilities:
“For a smaller nonprofit organization, a secretary could be just about anyone who is able to learn quickly and juggle many things. For larger nonprofit organizations, a nonprofit secretary is more likely to have a full 4-year degree and to have served in a secretary position before.”
Ensuring your board secretary fulfills the necessary qualifications based on your nonprofit’s unique needs is the first step to success. Otherwise, they’ll be scrambling to complete their work and may inhibit your team’s workflow rather than support it.
While specific duties tied to the board secretary position vary across organizations, most nonprofits implement several common ones. To get an idea of which tasks to assign to your secretary, let’s jump into eight common responsibilities, starting with the most well-known one: recording meeting meetings.
Your board meeting minutes record the board’s actions and decisions. They inform absent attendees what they missed, and if legal complications arise, your minutes can serve as a legal record. When written effectively, they’ll protect your board and the organization as a whole.
As part of the secretary’s core duties, this person is responsible for documenting your meetings fully and accurately. They may choose to take the minutes or delegate the responsibility to someone who has experience in summarizing meetings. Ideally, this individual should memorialize key information such as the board’s actions, the rationale behind decisions, elections of new officers, and reports from committees and officers.
After the fact, the board secretary should be responsible for promptly proofreading the minutes, getting them approved by the board chair, and distributing them to all invitees.
RELATED: Check out our complete board meeting minutes guide to learn about the ins-and-outs of effective minute-taking.
Concise and transparent records are more critical than ever. As the custodian of the nonprofit’s records, the board secretary ensures that all critical documents are organized, safely stored, and readily accessible to other board members and staff leadership. This officer should be your expert on policies and procedures based on these documents, including any key governing and operating processes that the board has approved.
Further, this individual is responsible for reviewing and updating documents as necessary. If complications arise, the board secretary should be prepared to call attention to the policies and procedures to ensure that the board remains ethical and compliant.
Pro Tip: Boardable’s Document Center is incredibly helpful for centralizing and securely sharing documents.
Beyond attending meetings and taking minutes, there are other board secretary duties tied to meetings. This individual is responsible for lining up meetings with board members and ensuring that most people can attend.
From here, they should distribute the necessary materials that attendees should review prior to the meeting, based on the agenda that the board chair and executive director create.
Pro Tip: Boardable offers automated meeting scheduling and other helpful meeting tools, perfect for eliminating back-and-forth when lining up and preparing for meetings.
If your organization operates with a membership governance model, the board secretary should play a role in maintaining membership lists. An important distinction here is that a membership governance model is NOT synonymous with a membership program.
Membership governance models mean that the power of decision-making rests on the “members” rather than a governing board of directors. When it comes to membership programs, most secretaries don’t bear the responsibility of managing them since community engagement will fall on a development director or resource development committee.
As the board’s “Communicator in Chief,” the board secretary should always have up-to-date contact information for every board and staff member on file. This way, anyone can quickly reference the secretary’s records when they need to reach out to one of their teammates.
Detail-oriented secretaries may choose to take it a step further by indicating each individual’s preferred contact method. That way, this person knows which board members will respond best to hardcopy outreach, emails, social media messages, or phone calls.
As part of your board’s leadership team, your secretary will be responsible for following up with board members to ensure they’re fulfilling their duties. In essence, the secretary should keep up with everyone’s meeting attendance records and communicate with the board chair to make sure they’re completing all tasks assigned during these meetings.
Pro Tip: Boardable’s Task Manager enables board members and leadership to keep up with assigned tasks and ensure they’re fulfilled by their designated deadlines.
Nonprofit board secretaries should keep a running tab of board “classes” to ensure the successful rotation of board members at the end of their designated terms. As new members are onboarded, the secretary should note their terms’ start and end dates.
As each board member completes their term, the secretary often reaches out with a reminder that acknowledges the end of their term limit and thanks them for their service.
As you can see, the board secretary comes with an extensive list of responsibilities. To ensure a successful transition to a new officer, the presiding secretary should help their successor get up and running. This means showing them the ropes by sharing sufficient documentation and giving tips for success.
You’ll also want the board secretary to assist in new board member onboarding as a whole. Alongside other board leadership, they can help develop a thorough and engaging orientation. Thanks to their experience and deep-rooted knowledge of the organization, they’ll ensure that the onboarding experience walks through expectations and sets a welcoming atmosphere.
RELATED: Learn all about orienting a new team with our guide on the new board member onboarding process.
Taking on a new role as board secretary can be overwhelming. After all, this position is instrumental in ensuring the board is practicing effective governance and adhering to the organization’s bylaws.
As with any new position, several best practices can help juggle the long list of duties. Whether you’re stepping into the job yourself or you’re another board leader looking to build out the role, set any nonprofit board secretary up for success with tips like:
Everyone will find success in different strategies, but whatever your approach is, the secretary should never stop chasing growth and striving for greatness throughout the entire term. Your board secretary can support the nonprofit’s vision and make strides toward organizational growth.
The constantly-evolving tech landscape means there are now tools that simplify our lives immensely, and that includes board management. Finding the right board software can streamline many of the secretary’s daily tasks, so they can focus more on supporting effective governance and helping their fellow board members stay on track. Not to mention, the whole board will benefit from being able to easily fulfill their responsibilities.
Based on the common duties we’ve covered, here are some of the core features that will supercharge your board secretary’s performance:
The board secretary can be a challenging position, but by providing every tool and resource needed to succeed, this individual will thrive in the role. Not to mention, your whole board will benefit from automating and centralizing core tasks into a single platform. Host highly engaging meetings, securely store all of your documents, and enhance communication altogether with the right tools.
The board secretary is a crucial puzzle piece for effective nonprofit governance. For many, this role is primarily seen as a minutes-taker, but as you now know, there’s so much more to it. From properly managing documents to helping hold members accountable for their work, the position has a wide range of duties tied to it, requiring much more than simply being present at all board meetings.
With a detail-oriented, communicative, and motivated individual in this role, your board will be on the path to success. And remember, the right software can take this board leader from fulfilling expectations to going above and beyond.
Looking to learn even more about effective board management and nonprofit governance? Check out these helpful resources:
Want a list of nonprofit governance points to get your leadership talking?
Use this free board oversight checklist to quickly identify areas that need attention and to spark important discussions. Download your free board governance oversight checklist today and share it at your next leadership meeting!