Updated November 5, 2020:

Can a nonprofit have two presidents? The answer is yes, although most nonprofit corporation laws contain a requirement that one person is designated as the president. However, you could have bylaws that allow for two people to be co-presidents and share duties.

A nonprofit can have a president/CEO and an executive director if the organization maintains a specific structure. For example:

  • President/CEO who has full authority for operations.
  • Board with a volunteer chairperson.
  • Executive director for Division X.
  • Executive director for Division Y.

Disadvantages of a Nonprofit With a President/CEO and Executive Director

This structure can, however, be confusing to some people. Under this model, a full-time employee is the one with operational authority instead of the executive directors. The executive director should be the one with authority related to operational matters, except for anything noted in the bylaws that should be transferred to the board of directors.

The question to address is who has the title of CEO? Some nonprofits that are just starting out have a part-time president/CEO who is a volunteer. This person has operational authority in addition to board chair responsibilities. It's not the ideal structure, as the title of CEO could require the volunteer to be subject to personal liability that other board members aren't at risk for.

Another concern with this structure is the risk of board micromanagement, which is difficult to combat as the nonprofit grows. It may even restrict growth because experienced chief executives may not apply for senior positions that are subject to such arrangements and decision making that involves another board layer.

Best Management Structure for a Nonprofit

The best management structure for a nonprofit typically involves having:

  • President/CEO who has full operational authority.
  • Board with volunteer chairperson.
  • Separate vice presidents for Divisions X and Y.

This arrangement is clearer and defines the CEO's operational responsibilities. It allows the president/CEO to handle management of the organization, in addition to thorough evaluations of the board every year.

Reasons Board Members Shouldn't Be in Management Positions

In an ideal nonprofit, the board of directors is the governing body. People who sit as board members are the ones responsible for overseeing all of the organization's activities. They will meet throughout the year to discuss current affairs and take a vote. There must be at least one annual meeting with all board members present. Board memberships aren't typically designed to be permanent positions; terms typically run between two and five years.

The governance should differ from the management, which is paid staff. It's understandable that many smaller and startup nonprofits have board members who are also in management positions, but you should set a goal to have board members that are separated from any staff members who are paid. The board of directors needs to be focused on the nonprofit's strategy, mission, and goals. Then staff members are responsible for reaching those goals.

Other Board Members With Greater Responsibilities

Nonprofit organizations have officers, typically selected from board members, who have more responsibility than other board members. Officers are elected by the board of directors, with the voting usually taking place in the nonprofit's first meeting. Officers typically serve out a term like board members. The three main officers are usually a president, treasurer, and secretary. The nonprofit's bylaws should specifically define officer roles and terms.

The president will head up the board of directors and will oversee all of the business affairs of the board of directors. The president can also serve as the CEO of the organization. As a reminder, these two are separate roles, and someone cannot be compensated to hold an officer's position.

The treasurer will monitor and keep track of receipts and disbursements for the nonprofit organization. This individual is also responsible for monitoring the nonprofit's financial condition. The position of treasurer is important because he or she regularly informs the other board members and officers about the nonprofit's financials.

A nonprofit's secretary is responsible for keeping minutes of the board of directors. He or she will keep track of the organization's activities and ensure the nonprofit runs in accordance with its bylaws. The secretary also maintains an updated list of the board members' contact information so he or she can let them know about upcoming meetings and important updates.

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