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!
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:
- Qualifications for Becoming a Board Secretary
- 8 Common Board Secretary Duties
- Tips for Being a Standout Board Secretary
- How Software Can Improve Your Board Secretary’s Performance
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!
Qualifications for Becoming a Board Secretary
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:
- Strong communication skills. Your board secretary is an active conduit for communication between board members. This individual is responsible for proactively collaborating with board members to set up meetings, giving proper notice of any meetings, and promptly distributing materials like agendas and minutes. The secretary will often have to extract and communicate key information from lengthy conversations, so effective communication skills are a non-negotiable part of the job.
- The ability to prioritize tasks. The board secretary will take on many responsibilities, so knowing how to organize them effectively and follow-through is crucial to remaining productive and getting everything done in a timely manner. Plus, the board secretary is also responsible for delegating tasks to other board members, which means knowing who to assign to which tasks will be an important part of the job.
- Familiarity with the nonprofit’s structure. Your board secretary should have a deep-rooted knowledge of the organization’s records and governing documents. They should be able to provide advice and resources to the board when relevant topics or questions arise. They should have a higher level of understanding of the nonprofit’s mission to easily provide strategic information to other board members.
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 the 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.
8 Common Board Secretary Duties
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.
1. Record and distribute board meeting minutes
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.
2. Maintain accurate records
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.
3. Schedule regular board meetings
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.
4. Oversee membership lists
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.
5. Ensure contact information is up-to-date
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.
6. Hold members accountable
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.
7. Track board member terms
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 to them for their service.
8. Orient New Board Members
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.
Tips for Being a Standout Board Secretary
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:
- Maintain a board binder that contains key documents. As we explored earlier, successful documentation is a vital part of the secretary’s role. As such, this individual will find it easiest to maintain a binder (whether physical or virtual) that contains governing documents, key governance policies, previous meetings’ minutes, and any other critical resources. Consider using secured electronic storage of key documents just to be safe!
- Understand what information to record during meetings. When recording minutes, the secretary should be comprehensive while simultaneously aware and sensitive to any special or confidential information discussed. If this ability doesn’t come naturally, the board secretary should put extra effort into learning what information to exclude instead of creating transcripts of each meeting.
- Keep the organization’s best interests front of mind. The board secretary is a representative of the nonprofit, both inside and outside of the boardroom. Therefore, this individual should invest special time in learning about the nonprofit’s inner workings to keep its best interests at heart with decisions and accurately represent the mission to the public.
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.
How Software Can Improve Your Board Secretary’s Performance
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:
- Meetings Center: The board secretary is responsible for scheduling meetings, distributing agendas, and ensuring minutes are recorded, among other essential tasks. With comprehensive meeting tools, you can automate the hours-long process of scheduling board meetings, safely record and distribute minutes, conveniently set up polls, and more. Plus, board leadership can easily maintain control of the boardroom, so your board can spend more time focusing on governance, strategy, and other areas that are vital to your mission.
- Document Center: As we said, the board secretary is the custodian of all board records. Get the simplicity of centralizing documents into one platform, rather than dealing with email attachments and reams of paper. Plus, Boardable’s system delivers a familiar design similar to traditional file-hosting services, so you can upload multiple files at once and organize them into folders and subfolders. Then, easily and securely share documents with board and committee members with complete control over who has access to each resource.
- Task Manager: To hold their fellow board members accountable, a board secretary will find a task management system incredibly helpful. Assign tasks with useful descriptions and due dates to make sure everything gets done. Each user will have access to their personal tasks, and administrators can view which ones are incomplete. With a centralized dashboard, the next steps are scannable within a few seconds.
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.