Optimizing Your Team: How to Create a Structure of Nonprofit Accountability

The most successful nonprofits have the staff and operational underpinnings needed to bring their vision to reality. Putting a structure of accountability in place, regardless of your nonprofit’s size, lays the groundwork for successful growth and increases your ability to drive impact. 

However, creating an organizational structure as well as roles and responsibilities for your team can become complicated and overwhelming for nonprofit leaders. To simplify the way you think about staffing at your nonprofit, focus on accountability by categorizing all of the work you do into functional areas. For most nonprofits, your activities will fall into one of the following:

  1. Strategy
  2. Operations
  3. Programs
  4. Marketing 
  5. Fundraising and development

Whether your nonprofit is staffed by two people or 200, these areas are essential to your success, meaning you must have at least one individual who is not just responsible, but also accountable to each function. At smaller organizations, fewer individuals will wear many hats and may play cross-functional roles, while at larger organizations, each function is likely staffed by teams of people. 

I’ll break each area down a little bit further, and then share how it might be staffed depending on your size, so you can create a culture of accountability at your nonprofit.


This functional area includes oversight of your nonprofit’s overall strategic vision and stewardship of the strategic plan. Organizational strategy should always be led by your nonprofit’s CEO, with input from leadership across functional areas as well as your board and external stakeholders. 


Operations encompasses your nonprofit’s governance and financial well-being. While many CEO’s lead both strategy and operations, at larger organizations, accountability for operations might fall under the purview of a COO or CFO, who works closely with your nonprofit’s CEO.


Your programs are perhaps the most straightforward function of your organization. They encompass the things you do day-to-day to serve your clients, community and mission. While some nonprofits provide just one program or service, others provide dozens. There should be one individual accountable for program oversight, with the support of the leadership team. At smaller organizations, this person might just be your CEO, while at larger organizations, it might be your vice president of programs who oversees a team of individual program directors.


The marketing and communications function within your nonprofit is accountable for your nonprofit’s brand, reputation, community relations, advocacy and awareness building. At small organizations, this area is often handled by one individual, who many times oversees fundraising as well. At larger nonprofits, marketing is overseen by your CMO or director of marketing with the support of a team. This team could include individuals responsible for digital media, public relations, external affairs and other marketing-related activities.

Fundraising and development

This is your organization’s revenue center, accountable for how you develop and raise funds to carry out everything you do at your nonprofit. Like marketing, the function might be spearheaded solely by one individual if your nonprofit is smaller or by a vice president or director of fundraising with the support of an entire team. This team could include grants, major gifts, CRM management and more, if your organization is larger.

By thinking about staffing at your nonprofit in terms of functional areas, it will become clear not only who is accountable for what, but where one process ends and another begins. This helps every member of your team own their work, prioritize what’s important and delegate more easily.

Want to Learn More About Your Nonprofit’s Health?

Take our Nonprofit Health Assessment to get an accurate picture of where your organization is strong and healthy (and where it needs some extra care and attention).

Leave a Comment