While much attention is paid to providing advice on the various roles of volunteers and to defining board member responsibilities, one of the challenges that nonprofit organization’s face is understanding the roles of the paid staff.  Many of the small to mid-size nonprofits have limited staff and as such, it is essential to leverage their time, resources and skills as effectively as possible.

Offer a comprehensive job title

One of the best ways to begin the process of defining and understanding the function of the staff is to establish realistic job titles. These titles can help to shape the role and highlight the expectations. A nonprofit/social service organization, while created to achieve a mission for its community and stakeholders, is often structured much like any small corporate business. As such, even in a small, lightly-staffed office, there are positions that must address management/leadership, administration, programming, services, development and marketing.  These titles and job descriptions should be very clear and, most importantly, should include a list of specific responsibilities that help to guide the staff and measure their progress.

Clarify staff versus volunteer/board roles

One problem area that can derail the staff is the division of tasks between them, board members and other volunteers. When the staff is not included in meetings with the lay leadership, they can become isolated from key conversations. They should be invited to attend board and committee meetings whenever possible and as appropriate. In this way they can gain a first-hand understanding about the advancement of the organization, the participation of the volunteers, and their own role in accomplishing the mission.   

To ensure good communication and seamless interaction between the staff and volunteers, there should be a comprehensive list of tasks assigning responsibility to each. From planning short and long range goals and strategies to executing programs, services and events, to encouraging community relationships and lastly, to supporting all committee activities, the division of labor should be transparent and accepted by all.     

Supervise staff effectively

But when there is limited staff, the opportunity for supervising the employees may be placed on a ‘back burner.’  Therefore even when their role is understood, many of the employees who are expected to interface with clients, donors, volunteers and other community leaders may not have the training or expertise necessary for the job. Training, supporting and mentoring staff is a critical component of helping the nonprofit be efficient and successful regarding their goals and objectives.

There are generic guidelines for all nonprofits regarding utilizing staff, but ultimately each organization must have its own unique character. Some, for instance, may expect staff to assist in fund raising or friend raising while others may limit the staff’s external interactions. It will depend on the distinctive personality of the organization and its leaders and can be fine-tuned as needed.

Why do employees matter?

The people in the front office have an influence on the organization’s success, the culture and inspiring the community.  It is therefore especially important for them to be engaged in the mission. Executing a structured and consistent process for staff supervision helps the employees gain greater confidence and competence in their positions.  Because the staff is most likely the first line of defense, offering the first impression of the nonprofit, poor performance by the staff can have a negative impact in the community it serves. The staff, when given strong role models and appropriate direction, can contribute strongly to developing good will and support for the organization. 

While this approach may not be as practical in a small nonprofit, it is too important to ignore. Whether supervision is formal or informal, the staff needs to be nurtured, encouraged, and recognized for their strengths as well as offered help in areas for improvement on a consistent basis. 


Managing a nonprofit organization is complicated by the necessity of integrating the paid staff, including the CEO/Executive Director, the volunteers, the committees, and the Board of Directors/Trustees along with the Board Chair, into one unified entity.  Job titles, descriptions, training and supervision for staff as well as board and volunteers can help to mitigate the challenges and minimize the conflicts. This begins at the staff level by permeating the entire organization under the leadership and vision of the Executive Director and the Board Chair.