Being president of a nonprofit organization means performing a wide variety of duties. Some of the responsibilities are required by law, while others depend on the structure of each nonprofit. The president's duties are typically laid out in the organization's bylaws, while other obligations may arise as the entity grows.
What Is the Head of a Nonprofit Called?
The head of a nonprofit has several options for potential titles. According to Mikko Sperber, managing partner and founder of Fundamental Strategy, a fundraising and nonprofit management advisory firm, many nonprofits do not have a president.
"The top staff position of a nonprofit organization is most commonly executive director, with the president and/or CEO becoming more commonly found in larger organizations," he says.
What Are the Legally Prescribed Duties of the Nonprofit President?
Several laws dictate how a nonprofit organization must be structured and the president's duties—or any head of the nonprofit, whether their title be CEO, chairman, or something else. Each state has its own laws related to the duties of nonprofits to prevent conflicts of interest.
Additionally, federal law regulates corporations—whether they are for-profit or nonprofit entities. For nonprofits, maintaining tax-exempt status means following these rules and staying up to date with record keeping, filing pertinent documents, and any changes in legislation. As the head of the nonprofit, the president is ultimately responsible, regardless of any duties they may delegate to others. These are, of course, in addition to any duties dictated by the nonprofit's own bylaws.
What Are Some Other Responsibilities of a President?
As a nonprofit leader, the president has myriad other responsibilities that may vary greatly, depending on the scope of the organization's mission. Generally speaking, however, "The top staff position has various responsibilities including ensuring the mission of the organization is executed, its programs are carried out in support of that mission, its finances are managed to carry out that mission, and of course, they become the ultimate supervisor of the organization's human capital," Sperber says.
Elizabeth Bostic, president, and CEO of LRE McGlotham Foundation, which provides scholarships to academically promising students, says that her job includes a wide range of responsibilities on any given day.
"My duties include but aren't limited to parliamentarian, social media, technology, grants, communications, meetings, and literally anything no one else will do," she says.
Does the President of a Nonprofit Get Paid?
Although some nonprofit organizations may be led by volunteers—such as Bostic, who does not receive a salary for being a foundation president and CEO—many nonprofit presidents are compensated for their work as it is their full-time job.
Vipe Desai, chairman of the board of Ocean Institute and executive director of Vote the Ocean—two ventures focused around innovations and solutions to reduce plastic waste and minimize business' impact on the planet—says that salaries depend both on the nature of the nonprofit in addition to how well it is funded.
"It should be a salaried position if the nonprofit can afford it," he says. "I've seen compensation from as little as $36K for startups with minimal funding all the way up to $250K for well-established nonprofit organizations."
Given the amount of responsibility the head of a nonprofit has, Sperber suggests that salary be commensurate with professional expertise and recognizes that not all nonprofits begin with significant funding, which is why many start off being led by their founder.
"It's common for a nonprofit not to have the funding/budget in place to afford to pay a market rate to its top staff person initially, making it even more likely that a mission-inspired founder will take on those responsibilities for little or no pay to see their dream take root," Sperber says.
Running a nonprofit is no small feat. The responsibilities and duties are great and often change quickly. The president of a nonprofit must be flexible and willing to work hard for potentially less compensation than a comparable for-profit position, but working for a cause you believe in may tip the scales in favor of the nonprofit.