Board Members Engaging Volunteers

BOARDYour board of directors provides governance to your organization. MEMBERS: engaging volunteers.

In this article you will learn about volunteering on a board of directors

A group of people who are legally charged to oversee the operations of a non‐profit organization. There are a number of different types of boards, including:

Working Board: Board members attend to strategic matters in addition to working with staff to carry out the mission; usually characteristic of newly established organization or ones driven by volunteers (also known as an Operational Board or Management Board).

Membership (Representative) Board: There is a clear link between the board and the service users, with board members being clients and employers at the same time.

Policy Board: This model distinguishes between the board and Executive Director role. The Executive Director provides operational leadership in managing the organization to fulfil its mission, while the board focuses primarily on strategic matters and ensuring responsiveness to community stakeholders.

Collective Board: Board members and staff share equal responsibility in deciding upon strategic matters and carrying them out. They emphasize equality and power sharing.

Corporate or Entrepreneurial Board: There is an emphasis on innovation, with a focus on efficiency and effectiveness measures that push the organization to achieve a maximum result on its investments.

Institutional Board: When the organization is very mature, with all the systems in place to run efficiently and effectively, the Institutional Board tends to exist primarily to raise funds.

, and the role and reponsiblities you will play. Non-profit organizations rely on strong leadership

When referring to an ‘organization’s leadership’, we mean the board, ED and senior management.

to drive change and achieve their missions.

Nearly all non-profits in Canada are led by a volunteer board of directors. The role of boards varies from organization to organization. Usually the board of directors gives leadership and guides the strategic direction of an organization. Boards govern non-profits on behalf of their members, while corporate boards govern on behalf of shareholders.

If you’re interested in volunteering on a board, first consider your skills, interests and experience. Board members should know an organization’s history and mission. And they should understand the board’s role before joining.

Responsibility and liability of volunteer board members

Board members have legal obligations, but many are unaware of them. Board members are liable for their decisions and work with the board. This liability holds true for all non-profit organizations.

Directors are responsible for representing the interests of the organization. When directing the affairs of an organization, the board must act within the law. As a trustee, a board member must follow three basic principles

Accepted bases of action or conduct. For the Organizational Standards Initiative, our guiding principles provide a value‐laden foundation on which our work can be based.


  1. Diligence. Act reasonably and in good faith. Consider the best interest of the organization and its members.
  2. Loyalty. Place the interest of the organization first. Don’t use your position to further your personal interests.
  3. Obedience. Act within the scope of the law. Follow the rules and regulations that apply to the organization.

A volunteer director who fails to fulfill these duties may be liable.

Volunteer Canada offers a resource to inform board members of their legal duties. It includes a “prevention checklist” to help reduce liability. Click here< to download a copy of the Directors’ Liability Insurance: A Discussion Paper.

Liability insurance

Some boards choose to get Directors’ and Officers’ Liability Insurance to protect them. Volunteer Canada offers its members< access to an affordable, premium group insurance plan<.


  • Advocacy on the Agenda: Preparing Voluntary Boards for Public Policy Participation< — Government advocacy is often central to the work of board members. But often, boards of directors have little or no experience engaging in discussions with policy makers. This resource supports boards in their advocacy work.
  • BoardSource< — With more than 20 years’ experience, BoardSource provides leaders with a range of tools to increase their effectiveness and impact.
  • Sector Source: Board Governance< — Sector Source is a project of Imagine Canada< and the legacy of the Nonprofit Library and Risk Management

    Risk management involves examining a situation and 1) identifying what can go wrong, 2) identifying measures to avoid such problems, and 3) if something does go wrong, identifying steps that can be taken to lessen the negative impact. These measures may include the use of policies, procedures, and protections (such as insurance or education). Risks can be related, for example, to financial loss, workplace safety issues including abuse & physical harm or injury, property damage, or loss of reputation.

    and Insurance and Liability Resource Centre. The Board Governance section outlines key processes, policies, and practices to have in place to support board effectiveness.