The Role of a Board Treasurer in Not-for-Profit Organizations

As the financial backbone of a not-for-profit organization, the role of a board treasurer is critical in ensuring the organization’s financial health and sustainability. While it may seem intimidating initially, with the right skills and knowledge, anyone can become an effective treasurer. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the key responsibilities of a not-for-profit treasurer, the qualities required for success, and provide practical tips for transitioning into the role.

Section 1: Defining the Role of Board Treasurer

Operational Responsibilities

One of the primary responsibilities of a board treasurer is to ensure that board members have access to clear and accurate financial data to inform decision-making. This requires collaboration with the organization’s staff to establish a system for providing financial information and presenting it in a digestible format. For example, working closely with the finance director, the treasurer can guide the production of financial reports highlighting the most relevant information for the board’s review and discussion.

Oversight Duties

In addition to operational responsibilities, treasurers are crucial in establishing and maintaining oversight mechanisms. This involves setting up systems and processes to ensure compliance with legal requirements, such as selecting auditors, establishing budget review processes, and filing necessary tax forms. By actively participating in developing these oversight guardrails, treasurers can contribute to the organization’s financial stability and mitigate risks.

Strategic Leadership

While technical accounting skills are not necessarily required, a successful board treasurer should be interested in and willing to learn key financial concepts and tools. This enables them to provide strategic financial leadership by utilizing data and technical knowledge to guide decision-making. By understanding the organization’s financial landscape, treasurers can identify opportunities for growth and collaborate with other board members to develop strategic plans that align with the organization’s mission and goals.

Section 2: Qualities of a Great Not-for-Profit Treasurer

Critical Thinking

Great treasurers possess strong critical thinking skills, allowing them to evaluate the organization’s financial standing, policies, and procedures. This enables them to make informed recommendations regarding financial decisions and identify areas for improvement.

Organizational Aptitude

Effective treasurers excel in organization and attention to detail. They are responsible for maintaining accurate financial records, managing cash flow, and ensuring that bills and payments are processed in a timely manner. By staying organized, treasurers can provide a solid foundation for the organization’s financial stability.

Strategic Planning

Strategic planning is vital for treasurers as it allows them to anticipate the financial impact of decisions and develop long-term financial strategies. Treasurers can contribute to the organization’s growth and future success by analyzing cause-and-effect scenarios.


Creativity is often overlooked but essential for treasurers. It enables them to generate innovative ideas for fundraising and cost-cutting initiatives, especially in a rapidly changing not-for-profit landscape. By thinking outside the box, treasurers can help the organization thrive despite financial challenges.

Clear Communication

Treasurers act as financial ambassadors for the board; effective communication is crucial. They should be able to communicate complex financial concepts in a clear and understandable manner. By presenting financial information in simple terms, treasurers facilitate informed decision-making by the board.

Basic Accounting Skills

While treasurers do not need to be professional accountants, a basic understanding of accounting principles is essential. This includes knowledge of budgeting, financial statements, and financial reporting. Treasurers can effectively oversee the organization’s financial operations by developing these skills.

Knowledge of Bylaws

A firm understanding of the organization’s bylaws is vital for treasurers to ensure compliance with internal policies and external regulations. Treasurers should be familiar with the financial rules and requirements outlined in the bylaws to maintain the organization’s financial integrity.

Section 3: Transitioning into the Role of Treasurer

Meeting with the Outgoing Treasurer

Upon assuming the role of treasurer, it is essential to schedule a meeting with the outgoing treasurer. This meeting provides an opportunity to transfer files, ask questions, and gain insights into the responsibilities and challenges of the role. By learning from the outgoing treasurer’s experience, newcomers can navigate their new role more effectively.

Requesting Previous Budget Information

To comprehensively understand the organization’s financial history, treasurers should request all previous budget information and financial documentation. This includes reviewing past budgets, financial reports, and relevant financial records. By studying the organization’s financial history, treasurers can identify trends and make informed decisions for the future.

Creating a Transition Timeline

A transition timeline is a valuable tool for treasurers to ensure a smooth handover of responsibilities. This timeline should include key dates for bill payments, financial reporting, and other financial obligations. By creating a structured timeline, treasurers can stay organized and avoid any disruptions in the organization’s financial operations.

Building an Initial Budget

Creating an initial budget is crucial for treasurers to establish financial goals and guide decision-making. It is essential to consult with the outgoing treasurer and other relevant stakeholders to ensure the accuracy and completeness of the budget. Treasurers can gain valuable insights and establish realistic financial targets by involving key individuals in the budgeting process.

Reviewing Outstanding Payments and Income

Upon assuming the role of treasurer, it is important to review any outstanding payments or income that may not be documented. This includes identifying any unpaid bills, outstanding invoices, or potential sources of income that have not been properly recorded. By addressing these financial gaps, treasurers can ensure the organization’s financial records are accurate and current.

Transferring Bank Account Records

Transferring bank account records is crucial for treasurers to ensure they have access to the organization’s financial accounts. This includes updating signature cards, online account access, and transferring credit card authorizations. Treasurers can promptly maintain proper control over the organization’s financial resources by completing these tasks.

Taking Control of Checkbooks and Credit Cards

As the new treasurer, taking control of chequebooks and credit cards previously held by the outgoing treasurer is essential. This ensures that all financial transactions are authorized and recorded accurately. Treasurers can maintain financial accountability and transparency by assuming control of these financial instruments.

Section 4: Common Mistakes to Avoid

Neglecting Separation of Duties and Access Control

Separation of duties and access control are essential for safeguarding the organization’s financial resources. Treasurers should establish and enforce policies and procedures that protect both the organization and themselves from potential risks. By implementing strong controls, treasurers can ensure financial integrity and mitigate the risk of fraudulent activities.

Neglecting Financial Reporting Duties

Timely and accurate financial reporting is crucial for the board to make informed decisions. Treasurers should prioritize preparing and presenting financial reports, ensuring that they provide a clear and comprehensive overview of the organization’s financial health. By neglecting financial reporting duties, treasurers impede the board’s ability to fulfill its fiduciary responsibilities.

Providing Tax or Legal Advice

Treasurers should refrain from providing tax or legal advice to donors or other stakeholders. The deductibility of contributions and compliance with tax laws are complex matters that should be addressed by qualified professionals. Treasurers should direct donors to consult with their own tax advisors for personalized advice.

Making Undocumented or Unapproved Decisions

Treasurers should never make undocumented or unapproved financial decisions that exceed their authority. All financial decisions should be made in accordance with the organization’s bylaws and with proper approval from the board. By adhering to established decision-making processes, treasurers can ensure transparency and accountability in financial matters.


Becoming a board treasurer for a not-for-profit organization is a significant responsibility that requires a combination of financial acumen, strategic thinking, and effective communication skills. By understanding the role’s key responsibilities, cultivating essential qualities, and following a structured transition process, treasurers can impact the organization’s financial health and contribute to its long-term success. Remember, the role of a treasurer is not just about numbers; it is about driving financial stewardship and ensuring the organization’s financial sustainability.