Nonprofit Organizational Charts: What are They and Why are They Vital?

A nonprofit org chart is the map many will use to understand how your organization functions. It's a key tool for both internal and external audiences and it can be a major step in making your startup nonprofit feel more legitimate. Read on to learn everything about nonprofit org charts, including the best type for your organization and what to include.

7 minutes read
Nonprofit Organizational Charts: What are They and Why are They Vital?

A nonprofit organizational chart is essential when starting a nonprofit. Defining staff roles, responsibilities, and relationships with each other will make it easier to create job descriptions and hire suitable employees. Determining the type of org chart will depend on the size of your organization, the work you do, and what sort of culture you hope to create.

Nonprofit organizational charts can also be an essential tool in explaining your nonprofit internally and to the public. These org charts will help your board, staff, and donors understand individual roles and how they affect your nonprofit’s mission.

1. What is a Nonprofit Organization Chart?

A nonprofit organization chart is similar to other business org charts. The differences in each chart lie with the organizations. Nonprofits will have board members at the top, staff, and volunteers below depending on their ranks and relationships. There are several types of nonprofit org charts to determine how the organization works. The location of your organization may also play a part in how your nonprofit is organized.

The Nonprofit Organization Structure (Functional Areas)

Org charts are necessary to use each role and program to its best advantage. Several parts of a nonprofit are essential to help the organization find success. Whether it is a board member, administration, or program staff, their roles and relationships must be clearly defined.

The nonprofit organization structure is divided into three main functional areas: Governance, Administration, and Programs.

1. Governance

A nonprofit’s board of directors is the governing board of the organization. Each member has a personal, legal, and financial responsibility. Board members are volunteers and are expected to attend meetings, make financial decisions, fundraise, and promote the organization to the public. The Board makes final decisions on the overall direction of the organization of Directors.

Group of people planning their non profit organizational chart.

Deciding on your board members will be one of the first things you do when forming your nonprofit. The number of members and officers you need depends on your state. Finding the right board members for your nonprofit can be tricky. Visit our blog for more tips on finding these board members.

2. Administration

Your nonprofit’s administration includes everyone helping to run the organization’s programs and fundraising efforts. The principal role in a nonprofit’s administration is the executive director. This role is responsible for overseeing all administration and program staff. They develop the organization’s strategic plan and budget and regularly report directly to the board.

3. Programs

The professionals who work directly with your nonprofit to achieve its mission are part of this area. Fundraising, human resources, marketing, volunteers, and other staff who work directly with beneficiaries and donors will fall under programs on your org chart. Each program should be laid out clearly in the org chart.

Your nonprofit may have separate fundraising, marketing, and volunteer management programs, or your fundraising staff may be in charge of all three. Once again, the relationship between these programs will depend on your organization.

Other programs also depend on the work you do in the community. If your organization provides medical services like physical, speech, and occupational therapy, each service will likely have a head manager and staff. This is true for any services your nonprofit offers to the community.

Types of Nonprofit Org Charts

Nonprofit org charts can help employees and board members better understand their roles within the organization. Individuals can visualize their rank in the organization and better understand where they should be reporting. Another way these org charts help is by showing where your organization can grow and where it needs to be trimmed down.

There are several ways these org charts can be laid out:

1. Top-down

The top-down chart is probably the easiest to follow and works best in smaller organizations with limited staff. The Board and Executive Director will hold the top two positions with other staff placed below depending on their roles.

Example of a top-down organizational chart.

2. Flat

Flat organizations are the opposite of top-down. There are fewer layers in these charts, and the organization will have more individuals reporting directly to the Board of Directors. This type of organization asks staff to manage themselves. The decisions of the day-to-day actions for this organization are made by the staff member supervising the project itself.

Those organizations using this type of org chart will need excellent communication tools to make sure their staff connects over crucial details.

Example of a flat organizational chart.

3. Divisional

Divisional org charts structure the nonprofit based on projects. This type of org chart should be for larger organizations dealing with different types of donors and clients. Staff in each program can take on leadership roles and make final decisions that work best on the ground.

Each program may have different accountants, volunteers, event managers, and more.

Example of a divisional organizational chart.

4. Cross-functional

The cross-functional org chart matches people together based on their roles within the organization. All fundraising staff may be linked together. The same goes for accounting, human resources, marketing, volunteers, and other program roles. This type of org chart is suitable for smaller organizations with several departments. Individuals may need to cover several areas at once, and this layout can make it easier to understand who reports to whom.

Example of a cross-functional organizational chart.

Once again, this type of org chart can create a collaborative environment, but this system can become chaos without effective communication tools.

5. Matrix

The matrix org chart combines parts of the cross-functional and divisional charts. This org chart is perfect for medium and larger organizations with several departments. The programs are across the top, and individual projects are broken down on the left. Individuals fall under the programs and projects they fit.

Example of a matrix organizational chart.

6. Round

This org chart follows the basic idea of a top-down org chart but with larger organizations. The benefit of using this type of nonprofit org chart may also help managers or even board members play a more significant role in the organization. If you are hoping to have board committees or individuals oversee specific projects, a round org chart can place the executive director or the board chairperson in the center to lead the overall operations and individual managers and board members on the outside to oversee specific programs.

Example of a round organizational chart.

How to Create a Nonprofit Org Chart

Nonprofits, like for-profit businesses, can use org charts to visualize their organization’s culture and clearly highlight the hierarchy within the organization. Org charts also help employees understand where to report and who makes the decisions in their organization. Finally, nonprofit leadership can use org charts to better see where there is an over or under-abundance of resources.

The following steps can be taken before, during, and after creating your org chart and putting it to good use.

1. Understand your nonprofit’s culture and hierarchy

Organizations with a top-down structure and those who are flat are worlds apart. Leadership and staff of these organizations should have a visual representation of how their organization works, who holds leadership positions in the organization, and what divisions of the nonprofit are seen as essential.

Before you start laying out your nonprofit’s org chart, you must have a strong understanding of which type of organization you are and how each group within your organization works together.

2. Clearly define relationships and decision-making structure

Org charts can be used by employees when creating new programs or determining their future within the organization. An org chart with clear reporting lines will help streamline the decision-making process within your nonprofit. It may also encourage staff to remain with the nonprofit when they see where their future can lie.

When creating your org chart, you must have well-defined reporting lines. Relationships within each department and between departments must be clear and understandable.

3. Find the right tool

Nonprofits may use design tools like Photoshop or InDesign to create their own org chart. If you do not have a designer on staff, there are online design companies that have templates you can use:

3.1 Canva

Canva provides free and paid templates for everything from a birthday card to an organizational chart. Just visit their website and type “org chart” in the search bar. You will be given options to edit and update to fit your organization.

3.2 Airtable

Airtable is a collaborative content planner. Your organization can create a custom org chart and share it online with everyone on your staff.

3.3 Microsoft Office

Microsoft Office is an excellent option if your nonprofit is already using this service. Word, PowerPoint, and Excel all have available org chart illustrations. You can choose from several options of org charts.

4. List the names and titles of all staff and board members

During our current world of remote work, an org chart that lists each staff member’s name, title, location, and contact information is vital for communication. When creating your org chart, you can have as much information about each individual and role you see as necessary. This will help when creating job descriptions and planning for large internal programs.

The following information can also be included:

4.1 Job descriptions

Nonprofit leadership can use org charts when making hiring decisions. The inclusion of job descriptions can help make these decisions easier.

4.2 Pictures

In larger organizations, and nonprofits that have gone entirely remote, an org chart that includes pictures of your staff will help build relationships. It is easier to communicate with someone when you know their name and face.

4.3 Contact information

Nonprofit workers often connect outside of work hours. Including the contact information of your staff members on your org chart will make this communication easier. It may encourage staff to connect with each other in less structured environments. This can help with relationship building and potentially create opportunities for innovative ideas.

5. Ensure your org chart is easily accessible to all

An org chart is useless if everyone does not have access to it. Once you have created and finalized the hierarchy, relationships, and names and contact information of your nonprofit, you must be able to share it with all staff and board members. Depending on the size of your nonprofit, you can do this with printed copies, by email, or through collaborative planners like Airtable.

Final Thoughts

An organization chart may not be the first thing on your mind when starting a nonprofit, but it can come in handy when planning for future hiring and creating your organization’s bylaws. If you have the roles and relationships of board members and staff ready at the start of your organization, it will help determine your organization’s internal culture and how your nonprofit will run.

As your organization grows, the org chart may need to adapt. As you can see, there are several options to help you along the way. If you are looking for more advice on managing your nonprofit or ideas for online fundraising, visit our Nonprofit Blog. Learn more about Donorbox’s affordable online fundraising options on our website.

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Kristine Ensor is a freelance writer with over a decade of experience working with local and international nonprofits. As a nonprofit professional she has specialized in fundraising, marketing, event planning, volunteer management, and board development.

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