Congregational boards also operate in ways similar to other non-profit boards. Here are some basic understandings of the basic duties of non-profit boards.
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Officers and Executive Committees
Congregations, like most non-profits, must have officers that hold the key fiduciary responsibilities. A president/moderator (or similar position) presides over meetings. A secretary records meetings and keeps accurate copies of all congregational governing documents and records. A treasurer keeps and shares accurate financial records. Practice and some state laws also have a vice-president/vice-moderator and/or an assistant secretary. These officers usually comprise an Executive Committee that makes some decisions between board meetings.
A board can't do all of its work by itself so it delegates (or "commits") research and preparation to other groups, which then report back to the board so the board can make the decision. You may have standing committees (finance, safety, personnel, etc.) to help with ongoing fiduciary work. There are also limited-time select committees (bylaws, staff search, strategic planning, etc.) that disband after they complete the charge given to them by the board. Some congregations refer to non-board committees as "teams."
Open vs. Executive Session
Open process and transparent communication are essential to self-governing institutions like congregations. Board meetings are usually open to any of the members. If this happens, good hospitality and boundaries can make it a positive experience for all. But there are also times when a board may need to discuss something in private (e.g. personnel issues) in an Executive Session.
Each congregation has its own unique culture and structure. We recommend that you create an understanding of roles and responsibilities using a responsibility assignment matrix such as a RACI Chart.
It's also helpful to understand the relationship between the governing board and professional staff.