What’s the Difference between a Working Board and Governing Board?

What’s the Difference between a Working Board and Governing Board?

When it comes to types of nonprofit boards, you can identify two types: working boards and governing boards.

What’s the major difference? A governing board serves a nonprofit with a staff, while a working board serves a nonprofit without a staff.

Working Boards

A no-staff nonprofit with a working board usually requires that the board members do the bulk of the organization’s work. That could mean that the treasurer runs the organization’s finances, another member tracks a project’s progress, or a member coordinates all volunteer activities. In most of these scenarios, the organizations will be small and local. They also may be a professional or trade association that is membership-based. These board members act as volunteers with day-to-day responsibilities. They are doing this because they are passionate about the mission and activities of the organization. What happens here is that the board is not only doing the management, but they are also doing the work.

If you are a working board, you have to ensure that the nonprofit is in good standing with the state and federal governments. If you are unsure about how to maintain your standing, you can check out this post for some guidance. If you do not maintain good standing, you may lose your corporation status with your state and your non-exempt status with the IRS. In this case, the nonprofit would become a partnership and individual board members can be held personally liable for the organization’s actions. It is very, very important to maintain your status.

Another consideration for a working board nonprofit is that you have to be very diligent about following up on delegated tasks. It is easy for work to slip when board members have full-time jobs that they are also tending to. Solid project management skills are a must in these cases.

In some cases, the working board may have a series of committees working on specific areas, such as finance, audit, or projects. Working boards often have these committees so that more work can get done with more clear direction. This helps the board meetings move more effectively.

Governing Boards

A governing board, on the other hand, is responsible for governance, oversight, and collaborating with nonprofit staff as needed.

While the nonprofit staff manages on most major and minor day-to-day  responsibilities, that does not mean that the governing board is a rubber stamp approving their every word. The board needs to be judicious in their project management skills and they have to actively seek information from staff and hold staff accountable. In particular, the board is responsible for hiring and supervising senior staff, whether that be the Executive Director or President.

When most people think of a Board of Directors, they imagine a board filled with CEOs and executives. But, a nonprofit that has a governing board must have their members strategically composed with a variety of skill sets and professional fields (hence, not just CEOs). In these cases the day-to-day management of the nonprofit is left to the nonprofit’s staff, the board is left to focus on strategic oversight.

A working board and a governing board have slightly different responsibilities, though both are responsible for what is happening at the organization. They are still responsible for making sure the organization is fulfilling its mission in a wise and effective manner. As a board member, you may have to actively seek out information from other members, staff members, or outside experts to fulfill your role.

The most difficult aspect of nonprofit growth is changing from a working board to a governing board. When you’re making that shift, it may require recruiting new board members to oversee a now developing staff and a change or shift in board management responsibilities.

In both types of board structures, be sure that all board members are aware of what to expect as a board member, the state and federal registration process, and their legal duties.