How Charity Boards Work

Setting Up a Charity Board

You've identified a need or a cause close to your heart and you've decided that the best way to address it is to start a charity (or a branch of an existing one). Fantastic. But in order to have a charity, you have to have a group of governors to oversee it -- a charity board. In fact, it's required by law that every nonprofit organization has one.

The good news is that the kind of people you'll need for advice and assistance to start up your charity are exactly the same kind of people you should have on the charity's board of directors. Their experience and expertise are what will make the nonprofit truly succeed. In fact, you should select this crew of people first before you go about starting up the organization.

  • A fiscal sponsor or benefactor is needed to handle startup costs and fees of the organization. This "angel" of a financial backer is likely wealthy, and he or she can offer the nonprofit organization financial management and fundraising expertise.
  • An attorney is needed to help you determine what paperwork your organization needs to file, where to file it and when to file it. Such documents include nonprofit incorporation (to indemnify you and the board against personal damages if the nonprofit goes under or gets sued), reports, filings, minutes, tax exemption status, fundraising licensure, obtaining the right to receive tax-deductible donations, and other things an experienced, institutionally experienced lawyer will know all about. He or she will also help draft the organization's bylaws.
  • An accountant can advise on bookkeeping, record-keeping systems and proper management of donated funds.
  • Local gadflys are assets. These people seem to know everybody. They can be anyone from a local celebrity to a newspaper editor to a small business owner. They're well-connected and they're generally successful people who can contribute real-world advice as well as status to your nonprofit.
  • Someone with managerial and/or writing experience can help craft a mission statement, used to lay out your charity's specific purpose, and a strategic plan, which is how the charity will execute that mission statement.
  • Look for other individuals who would benefit your individual charity's specific purpose: A homeless advocate for a homeless charity; school administrators for a children's afterschool program; librarians for a literacy program, and so on.