As an association leader, understanding your volunteer role on a not-for-profit Board is being aware of your job description. Not only will this clarify your unique role and responsibilities, but it will also allow you to better support other members of the team and their tasks. Boards are designed to function like a well-oiled machine. Each part with its own function, contributing to a greater whole that is always moving forward, despite any bumps on the road.  


If you are new to the Board and want to get ahead of the game before the first Board meeting and orientation, you may be asking… where should I start? By-laws!  

An association’s by-laws are a great place to start. This information is available on the association’s website and is accessible to members and the public. By-laws are internal, member approved rules set up by the association or organization for the purpose of self-regulation. Here you will find basic structural information such as the number of Board Directors required and a description of their roles, quorum, term limits, etc. To read more on why association by-laws are important, read my colleague Geoff Powell’s article here. 


Prior to accepting your first term as a Board Director, you may want to volunteer at an upcoming event or function hosted by the association. Ask to be paired with a senior volunteer or better yet, the person finishing up their Board term and currently in the role you’ll be taking over. Observe how they structure their time and network with members. Take mental notes and pause to give consideration to anything you would do differently including how you will make the role your own using your expertise to enhance it and help grow the association.  

Events and functions tend to be more executionary with the work and planning being done well in advance. Speak to other fellow directors and ask them how they prepare for an event and how much time was required both individually and at the Board level. The key here is to ENGAGE, both with members and fellow directors. This hands-on experience will provide you with great insights into your future role.  

Board Orientation 

Attending the Board orientation will be paramount. When the meeting schedule gets sent out via email, run, don’t walk, to put these dates in your calendar as you will not want to miss this session(s). Board orientation typically happens at the first official Board meeting post AGM and is run by the association’s executive director, association management company (AMC) staff member or a more senior Board member. Board orientation is valuable to both new and experienced Board Members.  

Why is it so important? Here you will be taken through your association’s policies and procedures, by-laws, any management contracts as well as many other key items. These documents should be provided to you in the form of a Board binder, created digitally in PDF form.  

Tip – come prepared with a few questions, and don’t hesitate to ask them; if they have not been answered towards the end of the session. 


Apart from connecting with your association Board Members, there is a vast sea of knowledge out there for you to explore regarding being a volunteer Board Director and understanding your role. The most time-saver way would be to spend some time searching the web.  

You can also consider attending online or in-person sessions on Board training and development. The Canadian Society of Association Executives (CSAE) is one example of an organization dedicated to association and not-for-profit professionals. The CSAE hosts an annual conference with a plethora of sessions to choose from.  

Any combination of the above elements will surely provide you with a great start to understanding the structure of a Board and your volunteer role. Nothing beats experience.  

So, get set, buckle in, and enjoy the ride! 

To learn more about board training for directors, read my colleague’s article here: The Crucial Orientation and Training for Association Board Members (