Organizational Structure

Founder's Role

Size of Organization: 

Every founder needs to determine his or her role within the organization. Probably the most difficult thing to realize is that you will not be the owner of the organization. As a tax-exempt organization your nonprofit will be accountable to the people it serves, to its funders, the attorney general, and the general public. If this lack of total control is impossible to accept, you should consider forming your own business where you can alone make all the strategic decisions. Naturally a founder is an important figure in the organization, deserving respect and gratitude but ultimately there is no such position as a ‘founder.' Every founder has a choice to be part of the staff or part of the board.

If you are most interested in being part of the daily activities in the organization, you may determine to be the first chief executive responsible for the operations, management, and administration. However, you will report to the board and the board is responsible for assessing your performance and giving you the strategic direction.

The chief executive usually serves as an ex officio non-voting member of the board. This provides a shield against conflict of interest and questions about accountability while forming a necessary and constructive partnership with the board.

If you want to ensure you have a direct say in the future of the organization, you may want to become a board member and may decide to be the first chair. Still, remember that every board member has only one vote - including the chair - and the full board must always speak with one voice to the outside world. However, as the founder you are able to form the initial board with members who believe in the mission of the organization, share your strategic goals, and are able to devote their time and energy to help you.

If the organization is not able to hire staff right away, you will have a working board where each member has individual fiduciary and governing duties as a board member and individual tasks and responsibilities to carry on the daily affairs. The important issue is to remember which hat each member is wearing at the different times to keep accountability intact. The board makes decisions as a body; individual members are accountable and responsible for their own tasks.