GRN

FAQ: Executive Committee Responsibilities

Question: As a non-profit board member, what is my role as a member of the Executive Committee?


Answer: Non-profit boards are traditionally served by an all-volunteer board of directors who bring the “Three ‘W's": Work, Wealth and Wisdom in service to their chosen cause.  Board members bring their passion for the mission of the organization they serve and are willing to physically work or volunteer on projects or engage in programs.  Board members often participate in fundraising activities and on board donation projects, and/or provide access to individuals and corporations with the necessary wealth able to fund the organization. Board members are also called upon to provide their wisdom, skills, talents or knowledge of issues addressed by the mission of their respective organizations.  

While serving on their chosen board of directors, board members may be asked (and should be prepared to) serve in a leadership role for the board.  Traditionally, four positions make up the Executive Committee of the board: the President (Chair), Vice-President (Vice-Chair), the Treasurer, and the Secretary.  All fulfill a vital role and function in maintaining organizational structure and process.  The Executive Committee is a basic governance structure of non-profit boards that provides leadership service to the board, and they may meet more often than the full board and direct or report to ad hoc committees or working groups as necessary. Here are the basic job descriptions of each member of the Executive Committee:

President: sometimes referred to as the Chairperson or the Chair, is the highest officer of an organized group or a board of directors. The Chair is typically elected, but can be appointed by the members of a board. The chair often calls meetings, organizes or creates meeting agendas, presides over board meetings and conducts board business in an orderly fashion.   Outside of meeting duties, the Chair often acts as the voice or face of the organization, acts as a formal point of contact or a media representative to the outside world and can be the primary spokesperson.

Vice-President: A VP, or Vice-Chair, is second in line to the top position of a board of directors.  The Vice-Chair is sometimes chosen to assist the chair with official duties and to serve as chair in the absence of the chair, or when a motion involving the chairman is being discussed.  The Vice-Chair often assumes the Chair duties as the predetermined term of Chair expires or the top seat is vacated.

Treasurer: Many non-profits nominate and elect or appoint a treasurer, responsible for the “conservation of the treasury.”  The treasurer often works closely with non-profit staff to understand income and expenditure cycles, profit and loss statements, and quarterly and year-end balances to assure the organization remains both fiscally sound, while meeting mission goals and objectives.  The treasurer is expected to review the budget and report at board meetings the financial status of the organization, ensuring checks and balances. A treasurer is expected to assure accurate records and supporting documentation is kept to a reasonable level of detail, through standard accounting BMPs, providing a clear audit trail for all transactions.  The treasurer also acts as a “financial conscious” of a board of directors in its efforts to be fiscally responsible through its fund raising efforts.

Secretary: Often an administrative board position accounting for minutes of each board meeting.  Taking the minutes (notes) of board meeting agendas, actions, discussions, decisions and conversations are transmitted to the board for approval either prior to or at the beginning of the following called board meeting.  Minutes can be amended as approved by the board to assure an accurate history of actions, decisions and serve as the critical “institutional memory” of board and organizational history.

Lastly, for all Executive Committee positions, a succession plan needs to be in place to assure new leadership, recruited from the board, is ready, willing and able to fulfill the roles of Executive Committee members as their terms of service expire, or should they need to resign from the board.  This succession plan can be addressed by knowing each position advances upward in order of service, or that the Vice-President knowingly assumes the President position once the term of office is fulfilled while the Treasurer and Secretary advance and replace one of their positions.  Often, boards informally ask for volunteers from the board, or actively and formally recruit members who show strong interest and activity in the organization mission, programs and outreach efforts.  We should not expect volunteer board members, or the Executive Committee for that matter, to be full-time authorities on programmatic, financial and managerial issues or to commit to more and longer meetings. The organization’s executive and staff must share at least as much enthusiasm and ownership of the mission and programmatic work as does the board, and perhaps even more because they bear the primary responsibility for implementing it.

Knowing that non-profit board service is a great way to provide volunteer service to your community or to an issue for which you have a passion, log on, search, talk to friends, seek your passion and volunteer as a board member.  While serving, provide your leadership to the Executive Committee to better your worthwhile cause, serve others, make your chosen organization stronger and the world a better place. Be a role model for others who, in their time, will serve in a leadership capacity.  Be a non-profit board leader, serve others, and serve for good!

Glenn Dowling
Executive Director
Georgia River Network

“How Nonprofit Boards Actually Solve Problems”

Case Study by Clay Montague

First of all, I have not served on the board of the Satilla Riverkeeper organization, but rather, at the request of the board, I stepped in from the general membership as a volunteer interim executive director and Satilla Riverkeeper. This was in February 2012. I had been a member of the organization since 2005, had been an occasional science contact for the first and second Satilla Riverkeepers, and had only briefly met a few board members at barbecues. I had never attended the annual gala, and had only recently moved to the area after retiring from the University of Florida. I still do not know why I was asked, but I served.

As I began to learn about the organization from the inside, I discovered something about board decision-making and the relationship of board and staff that impacted decisions. We had, as it turned out, a well-known problem among nonprofit organizations, which I'll mention more about in a minute. However, the solution process that occurred, and is still developing for us, may not be so well-known. I'm not an expert in these matters. It's only from this one experience that I can make the following observations and comments that I hope can be helpful to other boards. But first, a little background:

Important to understand: when I stepped in, it soon seemed to me that the organization was on the verge of complete failure. It had $50,000 in debt, about $300 in the bank, unpaid utility bills, overdue reports, unfulfilled contracts and grants, and no contract for the office space occupied apparently rent free. At the first board meeting I attended (the one where I was to be introduced as the new guy to run the show), only two board members were
present. I asked what the service was that the Satilla Riverkeeper provided. Neither could say. I did not quit that evening for reasons that I still wonder about.

Also important to understand: we got through this tough time.We are now debt free and have a substantial nest egg in the bank. We have an inspired and active board under the direction of its Chair, Ms. Kathi Murray, and we have an exciting fulltime Riverkeeper and Executive Director, Ms. Ashby Nix. We are once again becoming the premier force for the environment of southeastern Georgia, impressive to funding foundations and to our general membership alike, as we perform our mission to protect, restore, and educate about the beautiful and ecologically unique Satilla River. Along the way, I had a few realizations relevant both to how boards create problems an how they solve them.

My first realization: The road to the catastrophic situation we were in was well known in the realm of nonprofits. Both the Nonprofit Handbook by Gary Grobman and a board training lecture by Dr. Chris Allers of the Georgia Center for Nonprofits described our situation to a "T" without any knowledge of our organization. The Satilla Riverkeeper had been built into a powerful force by its original, charismatic, highly effective executive director and Riverkeeper. The board did not have to learn the business of the organization. It seemed to me that the board had not been faced with actually wrestling in depth with tough business management decisions because those had always been handled by this leader. His recommendations may have been duly considered and followed, but perhaps without much critique or insight. When that leader moved on to another organization, the board did not know how to mind the store. When store-minding became necessary, it was ineffective to prevent a near disastrous condition. Tough store-minding decisions could have made a crucial difference. We are left to imagine the possible impact, for example, had the board made the very tough decision to refuse to go into debt.

Although the board enjoyed the reputation of a truly effective force for the environment, when it came to business matters, it seemed to respond only after the complete loss of leadership upon the resignation of its chosen executive director and Riverkeeper. And even this response seemed poorly executed, judging from the mess I found. Past searches for replacement leaders seemed inexperienced and delegated to staff. Response to loss of leadership, however, was a feature of this board that eventually had to be used to cause a dramatic change in how the board did the business of finding an executive director and Riverkeeper. That change seems to have been a key turning point for our board.

When the finances finally allowed me to advertise for a new fulltime Riverkeeper and Executive Director, the ad went out nationally to about thirty job-posting sites, and 28 strong applications were received. To my delight, the board rallied around reviewing the applicants and making a selection. Board members responded like I had not seen before. But I had to resign my interim position before that would happen.

Nevertheless, since that turning point, the board has begun to tackle other important tasks never before done so independently of the paid staff. They updated the bylaws, developed certain specific written policies and committees, received some formal board member training, and began work on a strategic planning process. They have begun to develop programs to involve both kids and the general membership in various river appreciation activities. Our board may now be one of the most effective nonprofit boards in southeastern Georgia, if not the whole state.

Now for a second realization: boards are dynamic. When times get tough, board members can turn over rapidly. This turnover appeared to be part of the solution process. In fact, although a few members resigned for personal reasons after a period of little or no contribution, and maybe one or two resigned because of the seeming impending demise of the organization with considerable debt, several members resigned immediately after making very significant contributions that helped turn the organization around! These members seemed to be worn down by the frustrations of working with other board members to make difficult choices and revisions to bylaws and policies. But they were effective and pushed the needed process forward. This phenomenon occurred not only in the revision of bylaws and policies, but also in the search for the new executive director.

Another realization: a board can be motivated to action. With sufficient motivation, a big, important task can be done by an inexperienced board. Board members are good people that have a strong interest in the success of the organization. In a crisis, people will draw on their own business and home management experience to solve the crisis, if they clearly have responsibility and ownership of the problem. Whether experienced or inexperienced, a key may be to convince board members of the crucial nature of the task and the necessity for the board to do it. Someone must push forward to setup the situation so the board must act. That someone could be a board member or executive director. It may take extreme measures, such as the resignation of key leaders, but that extreme measure can be used to create a turning point, by leaving key responsibility clearly in the hands of the board. In my case, I had to write the ad, and find the advertising outlets, but I made the board chair the contact person for applicants, and then I resigned.

Frustration breeds success. Working together on a common serious problem can lead to voiced disagreement, heated discussion, frustration, perhaps board turnover, but ultimately to success. My advice is to expect this, nurture a professional attitude toward it, and use it. Dancing around an issue to avoid hurting feelings seems just as ineffective as intentionally making a personal attack. We are all just people trying to help our organization work. For difficult problems, frustration and voiced disagreement seems to be a natural part of the process of finding a solution.

Here's something else that seemed to pay dividends: Learning of one another's easy abilities. Different board members have an odd collection of strengths, experiences, hobbies, and skills that they can bring to the organization. Other board members may not know about most of these. When I paid a personal, individual visit to several board members just to talk about their personal interest in the Satilla River and shoot the breeze, it seemed to re-involve them and help both of us identify those strengths and skills that they might have a fairly easy time contributing when needed. Our newspaper man has written newsletter stories, our admiral provided clear written policy revisions, our business franchise magnate led the review of executive director applicants, and our former elephant-trainer, now science teacher has invented the Satilla Stewards program for the kids in our watershed to get involved in the river.

Finally, I have realized the value of professional training for board members and staff. By letting us know that our organizational problems were not unique, have been studied by professionals, and have been solved before, training and continuing education has repaid many fold. These days, with so many nonprofits vying for limited funds, formal board training seems essential. Training can enhance board effectiveness enough for the organization to be noticed by funding foundations and general members alike and therefore to reach its full potential toward fulfilling its mission. Training can be required, in our case it was forced by contract requirements, the watchful eyes of funding foundations, our desperate financial situation, and the belief that board members could be held personally liable for debt.

Of course, executive director and riverkeeper training are also essential. The capacity for achieving the mission can be increased when board members participate in this same training too. We have received board and staff training lectures and generous one-on-one advice from the Georgia River Network, Georgia Center for Nonprofits, and the Foundation Center. The Waterkeeper Alliance offers Riverkeeper networking. Some good books are available that can be offered to all board members andExecutive Directors, and those with aspirations to be. Two favorites are The Nonprofit Handbook by Gary Grobman, and Friendraising by Hildy Gottleib. You may know of others you could mention.

In closing, thanks for the opportunity to tell the story of our journey into problems and out again. We've been able once again to thrive as an effective organization. I hope these realizations that I had during my singular experience can help you. But we are aware that our journey back is ongoing and incomplete. I wish you and us continued good luck!


Suggested Reading
Grobman, Gary. 2011. The Nonprofit Handbook: Everything You
Need to Know to Start and Run Your Nonprofit Organization, Sixth
edition. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: White Hat Communications.
421 pages.


Gottleib, Hildy. 2006. Friend Raising: Community Engagement
Strategies for Boards Who Hate Fundraising But Love Making
Friends. Tucson, Arizona: Renaissance Press. 209 pages.

 Chattahoochee River User's Guide

The Chattahoochee River is one of the premier waterways of Georgia and the Southeast. It is a mecca for summer recreation, a priceless natural resource that provides water and power for a great number of Georgia’s citizens, and an essential component to the region’s ecosystem. As public interest in both exploring and protecting Georgia’s rivers such as the Chattahoochee grows, so too has the demand for clear and elegant guides to our rivers. The Chattahoochee River User’s Guide—the latest in a series of river guides from Georgia River Network and the University of Georgia Press—aims to meet that demand.

The Chattahoochee River User’s Guide traces the 430-mile course of the Hooch from its headwaters at a spring on Coon Den Ridge near Jacks Knob in northeastern Georgia to its confluence with the Flint River, where they form the Apalachicola River. The Georgia River Network guides provide many little-known facts about Georgia’s rivers, bring to life these rivers’ cultural and natural history, and present river issues in an immersive and engaging manner that will inspire users to help protect their local waterways.  Features:

  • 200 color photographs

  • 32 user-friendly maps that reveal the towns, roads, entry points, bridges, public lands, parks, and other landmarks along the river's course from the southern Blue Ridge Mountains to the Georgia-Florida border

  • Detailed practical information about public access points, potential hazards, camping facilities, and GPS coordinates for points of interest

  • A primer on fishing

  • An introduction and safety overview, as well as a concise natural history guide to common flora and fauna of the river corridor

If you purchase your copy directly from GRN, a portion of the proceeds benefit our river conservation work. To order online, go HERE.  To place a pick-up order, call 706-549-4508 or come by the Georgia River Network office. Price: $23 including tax, $26 including tax and shipping.  Joe Cook is the author of the Georgia River Network Guidebook series published by the UGA Press, is coordinator of Georgia River Network’s Paddle Georgia Event, and on staff at Coosa River Basin Initiative.

Also available, Broad River User's Guide,  Etowah River User's Guide, and Flint River User's Guide 

“How Nonprofit Boards Actually Solve Problems”
Case Study by Clay Montague

First of all, I have not served on the board of the Satilla Riverkeeper organization, but rather, at the request of the board, I stepped in from the general membership as a volunteer interim executive director and Satilla Riverkeeper. This was in February 2012. I had been a member of the organization since 2005, had been an occasional science contact for the first and second Satilla Riverkeepers, and had only briefly met a few board members at barbecues. I had never attended the annual gala, and had only recently moved to the area after retiring from the University of Florida. I still do not know why I was asked, but I served.

As I began to learn about the organization from the inside, I discovered something about board decision-making and the relationship of board and staff that impacted decisions. We had, as it turned out, a well-known problem among nonprofit organizations, which I'll mention more about in a minute. However, the solution process that occurred, and is still developing for us, may not be so well-known. I'm not an expert in these matters. It's only from this one experience that I can make the following observations and comments that I hope can be helpful to other boards. But first, a little background:

Important to understand: when I stepped in, it soon seemed to me that the organization was on the verge of complete failure. It had $50,000 in debt, about $300 in the bank, unpaid utility bills, overdue reports, unfulfilled contracts and grants, and no contract for the office space occupied apparently rent free. At the first board meeting I attended (the one where I was to be introduced as the new guy to run the show), only two board members were
present. I asked what the service was that the Satilla Riverkeeper provided. Neither could say. I did not quit that evening for reasons that I still wonder about.


Also important to understand: we got through this tough time.We are now debt free and have a substantial nest egg in the bank. We have an inspired and active board under the direction of its Chair, Ms. Kathi Murray, and we have an exciting fulltime Riverkeeper and executive director, Ms. Ashby Nix. We are once again becoming the premier force for the environment of southeastern Georgia, impressive to funding foundations and to our general membership alike, as we perform our mission to protect, restore, and educate about the beautiful and ecologically unique Satilla River. Along the way, I had a few realizations relevant both to how boards create problems an how they solve them.

My first realization: The road to the catastrophic situation we were in was well known in the realm of nonprofits. Both the Nonprofit Handbook by Gary Grobman and a board training
lecture by Dr. Chris Allers of the Georgia Center for Nonprofits
described our situation to a "T" without any knowledge of our
organization. The Satilla Riverkeeper had been built into a
powerful force by its original, charismatic, highly effective
executive director and Riverkeeper. The board did not have to
learn the business of the organization. It seemed to me that the
board had not been faced with actually wrestling in depth with
tough business management decisions because those had
always been handled by this leader. His recommendations may
have been duly considered and followed, but perhaps without
much critique or insight. When that leader moved on to another
organization, the board did not know how to mind the store. When
store-minding became necessary, it was ineffective to prevent a
near disastrous condition. Tough store-minding decisions could
have made a crucial difference. We are left to imagine the
possible impact, for example, had the board made the very tough
decision to refuse to go into debt.
Although the board enjoyed the reputation of a truly effective force
for the environment, when it came to business matters, it seemed
to respond only after the complete loss of leadership upon the
resignation of its chosen executive director and Riverkeeper. And
even this response seemed poorly executed, judging from the
mess I found. Past searches for replacement leaders seemed
inexperienced and delegated to staff. Response to loss of
leadership, however, was a feature of this board that eventually
had to be used to cause a dramatic change in how the board did
the business of finding an executive director and Riverkeeper.
That change seems to have been a key turning point for our
board.
When the finances finally allowed me to advertise for a new
fulltime riverkeeper and executive director, the ad went out
nationally to about thirty job-posting sites, and 28 strong
applications were received. To my delight, the board rallied
around reviewing the applicants and making a selection. Board
members responded like I had not seen before. But I had to
resign my interim position before that would happen.
Nevertheless, since that turning point, the board has begun to
tackle other important tasks never before done so independently
of the paid staff. They updated the bylaws, developed certain
specific written policies and committees, received some formal
board member training, and began work on a strategic planning
process. They have begun to develop programs to involve both
kids and the general membership in various river appreciation
activities. Our board may now be one of the most effective
nonprofit boards in southeastern Georgia, if not the whole state.
Now for a second realization: boards are dynamic. when times
get tough, board members can turn over rapidly. This turnover
appeared to be part of the solution process. In fact, although a
few members resigned for personal reasons after a period of little
or no contribution, and maybe one or two resigned because of the
seeming impending demise of the organization with considerable
debt, several members resigned immediately after making very
significant contributions that helped turn the organization around!
These members seemed to be worn down by the frustrations of
working with other board members to make difficult choices and
revisions to bylaws and policies. But they were effective and
pushed the needed process forward. This phenomenon occurred
not only in the revision of bylaws and policies, but also in the
search for the new executive director.
Another realization: A board can be motivated to action. With
sufficient motivation, a big, important task can be done by an
inexperienced board. Board members are good people that have
a strong interest in the success of the organization. In a crisis,
people will draw on their own business and home management
experience to solve the crisis, if they clearly have responsibility
and ownership of the problem. Whether experienced or
inexperienced, a key may be to convince board members of the
crucial nature of the task and the necessity for the board to do it.
Someone must push forward to setup the situation so the board
must act. That someone could be a board member or executive
director. It may take extreme measures, such as the resignation
of key leaders, but that extreme measure can be used to create a
turning point, by leaving key responsibility clearly in the hands of
the board. In my case, I had to write the ad, and find the
advertising outlets, but I made the board chair the contact person
for applicants, and then I resigned.
Frustration breeds success. Working together on a common
serious problem can lead to voiced disagreement, heated
discussion, frustration, perhaps board turnover, but ultimately to
success. My advice is to expect this, nurture a professional
attitude toward it, and use it. Dancing around an issue to avoid
hurting feelings seems just as ineffective as intentionally making a
personal attack. We are all just people trying to help our
organization work. For difficult problems, frustration and voiced
disagreement seems to be a natural part of the process of finding
a solution.
Here's something else that seemed to pay dividends: Learning of
one another's easy abilities. Different board members have an
odd collection of strengths, experiences, hobbies, and skills that
they can bring to the organization. Other board members may not
know about most of these. When I paid a personal, individual visit
to several board members just to talk about their personal interest
in the Satilla River and shoot the breeze, it seemed to re-involve
them and help both of us identify those strengths and skills that
they might have a fairly easy time contributing when needed. Our
newspaper man has written newsletter stories, our admiral
provided clear written policy revisions, our business franchise
magnate led the review of executive director applicants, and our
former elephant-trainer, now science teacher has invented the
Satilla Stewards program for the kids in our watershed to get
involved in the river.
Finally I have realized the value of professional training for board
members and staff. By letting us know that our organizational
problems were not unique, have been studied by professionals,
and have been solved before, training and continuing education
has repaid many fold. These days, with so many nonprofits vying
for limited funds, formal board training seems essential. Training
can enhance board effectiveness enough for the organization to
be noticed by funding foundations and general members alike and
therefore to reach its full potential toward fulfilling its mission.
Training can be required, in our case it was forced by contract
requirements, the watchful eyes of funding foundations, our
desperate financial situation, and the belief that board members
could be held personally liable for debt.
Of course, executive director and riverkeeper training are also
essential. The capacity for achieving the mission can be
increased when board members participate in this same training
too. We have received board and staff training lectures and
generous one-on-one advice from the Georgia River Network,
Georgia Center for Nonprofits, and the Foundation Center. The
Waterkeeper Alliance offers Riverkeeper networking. Some good
books are available that can be offered to all board members and
executive directors, and those with aspirations to be. Two
favorites are The Nonprofit Handbook by Gary Grobman, and
Friendraising by Hildy Gottleib. You may know of others you
could mention.
In closing, thanks for the opportunity to tell the story of our journey
into problems and out again. We've been able once again to
thrive as an effective organization. I hope these realizations that I
had during my singular experience can help you. But we are
aware that our journey back is ongoing and incomplete. I wish you
and us continued good luck!


Suggested Reading
Grobman, Gary. 2011. The Nonprofit Handbook: Everything You
Need to Know to Start and Run Your Nonprofit Organization, Sixth
edition. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: White Hat Communications.
421 pages.


Gottleib, Hildy. 2006. Friend Raising: Community Engagement
Strategies for Boards Who Hate Fundraising But Love Making
Friends. Tucson, Arizona: Renaissance Press. 209 pages.

 Broad River User's Guide

book cover with shadowThe Broad River is among the last free-flowing rivers in Georgia and perhaps the state’s most wild. The Broad River User’s Guide traces the unique characteristics of the full 60 miles of the river and the 110 miles of its three forks (South, Middle, and North) before the main river’s convergence with the Savannah River.

In doing so, the guide outlines the river’s cultural and natural history, telling the story of humans’ relationship to the river from precolonial days to the present. Though the mainstem of the Broad is one of the few Georgia rivers to escape dams, it was one of Georgia’s first inland river valleys to be explored and settled. Along its course are rare species like shoals spider lilies and the Bartram’s bass, not to mention some of the most popular whitewater paddling in North Georgia.

With this handbook, river explorers will find all the information needed to embark on a Broad River journey, including detailed maps, put in/take out suggestions, fishing and camping locations, mile-by-mile points of interest, and an illustrated natural history guide to help identify animals and plants commonly seen in and around the river.

This guide includes:

  • an introduction and overview of the river
  • chapters describing each river section with detailed maps and notes on river access and points of interest
  • a compact natural history guide featuring species of interest found along Georgia’s rivers
  • notes on safety and boating etiquette
  • a fishing primer
  • notes on organizations working to protect the river

If you purchase your copy directly from GRN, a portion of the proceeds benefit our river conservation work. To order online, go HERE. To place a pick-up order, call 706-549-4508 or come by the Georgia River Network office. Price: $20 including tax, $23 including tax and shipping.  Joe Cook is the author of the Georgia River Network Guidebook series published by the UGA Press, is coordinator of Georgia River Network’s Paddle Georgia Event, and on staff at Coosa River Basin Initiative.

Also available, Etowah River User's GuideChattahoochee River User's Guide, and Flint River User's Guide 

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