Nonprofit Organizational Chart Best Practices: The Complete Guide with Examples

June 1, 2023

3:07 PM

By OrgChart Team


Org charts for non-profits

Dear reader,

As the CEO of OrgChart, I have witnessed firsthand the transformative power that well-designed and meticulously maintained organizational charts can have on the success of nonprofits. It’s no secret that the nonprofit sector faces unique challenges, and I believe that leveraging the full potential of org charts can play a significant role in helping these organizations achieve their noble missions.

I’m deeply invested in your success, so I am excited to share with you our latest guide, designed to equip HR professionals like you gain the knowledge and insights you need to experience the full potential of organizational charts in your nonprofit.

In this comprehensive guide, we not only cover the fundamentals of nonprofit organizational charts but also provide valuable information on the most common structures and how different types of nonprofits can benefit from org chart software. Moreover, we share practical tips on creating org charts and present eight best practices to ensure your organization is set up for success.

We understand that HR professionals are the backbone of any organization, and it’s our mission to provide you with the resources and tools necessary to drive meaningful change. By the end of this guide, you will have a deeper appreciation for the strategic value of organizational charts and be better equipped to make informed decisions that propel your nonprofit forward.

Together, let’s redefine the way we view org charts and unlock the power they hold in shaping the future of our nonprofits.

Tom McCarty
CEO, OrgChart

Your Guide to Nonprofit Organizational Structure, Strategy, & Success

On one side, organizational charts are a static image of the organization’s structure that we set and forget. Conversely, they’re a dynamic and strategic HR intelligence partner representing the roadmap for achieving our mission. 

At OrgChart, we live and breathe workforce planning — especially when it helps nonprofits improve visibility, accelerate insights, and empower the vision necessary to make the world a better place. 

If you’re new to organizational charts, or have never taken the time to really understand all that they can do for your nonprofit – this guide is for you. 

In this article, we’ll take a deep dive into the benefits and best practices of org charts for nonprofits and explore how this seemingly simple workforce planning solution can make a difference in the success of your organization.  

In this article

What is a nonprofit organizational chart?
Five common organizational structures for nonprofits
How nonprofits benefit from organizational chart software
What types of nonprofits need organizational charts?
How to create an organization chart for your nonprofit
Eight best practices for building your nonprofit organizational chart

What is a nonprofit organizational chart?

An organizational chart is a visual mapping of your organizational structure. It illustrates the hierarchy, departments, and individual roles within an organization and how they relate. A nonprofit organization chart carries the same characteristics as a for-profit chart, except it includes a board of directors in its hierarchy, along with volunteers and staff. 

An organizational chart lets you quickly understand how a nonprofit operates to achieve its mission. At a glance, you see the chain of command, from the board of directors at the top to the staff down the ranks. Nonprofit staff are usually grouped by department, program, or location. Along with the span of control for various managers, you can also view how your volunteers are organized. Whatever the arrangement, the org chart is designed to communicate what roles and responsibilities are required to accomplish your nonprofit’s goals.

When founding a nonprofit, adopting a formal organizational structure isn’t usually the first order of business. Instead, it’s the result of what was needed at the time and who was available to pitch in. As the organization matures, it develops a framework for how the team works best, accounting for efficient communication channels, productive collaboration, manageable spans of control, and effective delegation of tasks. 

There are many different types of these frameworks or structures, and the best type depends on your nonprofit’s size, mission, complexity, and classification. Next, we’ll look at five common types of organizational structures and their benefits. 

Five common organizational structures for Nonprofits


The most classic example, the functional organizational structure, groups teams into departments based on function, like development (fundraising), programs, services, and outreach. 

Each department is staffed by specialists and headed by a specialist manager who is responsible for overseeing the department’s performance. Those managers report to upper management or the executive director, who in turn reports to a board of directors. 

Functional organizational structures are common in nonprofits with limited programs or services. For instance, a food pantry might have departments based on fundraising, food distribution, and in-house meal services. A nonprofit focused on social justice might have departments for research, policy development, and public relations. 

In both examples, departments are responsible for a clear set of tasks and staffed by employees with specific skill sets. As a result, functional org structures are relatively efficient and straightforward to manage. However, they can be less effective for nonprofits with multiple goals or projects.   

Here are some other pros and cons of a nonprofit functional organizational structure:


  • Professional development. Staff focus on their specific expertise and benefit from working closely with colleagues who share similar roles, leading to learning, growth, and development opportunities.
  • Shared resources. Departments share the same equipment and technology and use the same processes, which reduces costs and improves efficiency.   
  • Natural collaborators. Staff with shared professional interests are more inclined to collaborate and communicate effectively, leading to greater productivity.


  • Siloed collaboration. Functional departments are great at collaborating internally but could be better at collaborating with outside departments due to fewer opportunities to interact with one another.
  • Potential for conflict. Departments may compete for resources, leading to discord and tension. 
  • Rigid roles. Teams focused on their objectives are less willing to adapt to new opportunities and challenges if they don’t align with their department’s activities. 
Functional Nonprofits org chart


A hierarchical organizational structure is a pyramid with a clear chain of command. In the hierarchy, authority and decision-making are concentrated at the top and delegated down through various levels of management. 

A nonprofit might have a board of directors at the top, followed by an executive director, then a senior leadership team, directors, managers, and employees. Each level has varying degrees of responsibility that align with your nonprofit’s mission. 

For instance, if the founder or executive director is the voice and visionary for your mission, the leadership team might be responsible for developing the strategic plan to achieve that mission. Beneath them, directors and managers identify goals for their departments and the objectives required to accomplish them. Employees execute tasks that align with departmental objectives. Each layer in the hierarchy has a clearly defined purpose with increasing responsibility. 

Here are the pros and cons typically experienced in a hierarchical structure: 


  • Efficient decision-making. Decisions move quickly, thanks to fewer “cooks in the kitchen,” especially at smaller nonprofits.  


  • Slow response to change. Larger and more complex nonprofits with a hierarchical structure may be slower to respond to change due to many more layers in the chain of command. 
  • Stifled creativity. Instead of exploring new ideas, employees may feel restricted to working on only the tasks prescribed to them.
  • Lack of autonomy. Employees with decision-making power may feel motivated and satisfied with their career path.
Hierarchical Org Chart for Non-profits


As it sounds, a geographic organizational structure arranges employees by location. It’s more common with large nonprofits with regional, national, or international offices. 

A geographic structure makes sense for a nonprofit whose mission targets a widespread and recurring issue, like childhood poverty, environmental hazards, or animal welfare. 

For instance, the American Red Cross alleviates and prevents human suffering, especially during emergencies. It has its headquarters in Washington, D.C., and dozens of local chapters in cities throughout the U.S. Each location has its own relief efforts, blood donation centers, and other administrative departments. 

Here are the potential pros and cons of geographic organizational structures: 


  • Targeted fundraising. Prospective donors and corporate partners are likelier to give to a charity in their community.
  • Community-first mindset. Geographically dispersed nonprofits have a more significant impact by tailoring their programs and services to the specific needs of their communities. 
  • Shape local policy. Nonprofits with a regional footprint can influence policy-makers to enact change that benefits the organization’s mission.


  • Resource constraints. Some nonprofits using a geographic structure experience funding or staffing constraints at locations in under-resourced communities where finding talent or soliciting donations is challenging.
  • Coordination issues. Coordinating shared resources and initiatives and maintaining consistent processes among locations can be problematic.  
  • Hard to scale. From a funding perspective, only so many potential donors and grant opportunities are available in a community. 


The divisional organization structure takes the hierarchical framework one step further and divides the organization into separate, semi-autonomous units or divisions. Each division is responsible for a specific program, service, or geography and has its own functional departments, such as development, outreach, and operations. 

Large and more complex nonprofits may benefit the most from a divisional org structure, especially if their mission is multi-faceted. 

Take the Nature Conservancy, for example. It’s dedicated to conserving the world’s natural resources and operates multiple divisions focused on environmental issues like climate change, marine life, freshwater conservation, and more. Each division is responsible for implementing programs, raising funds, and facilitating awareness of a particular conservation issue.

While the Nature Conservancy has regional offices worldwide and functional departments in each, its divisional structure is not based on geographic location but on specific focus areas.   

Pros and cons of a divisional structure include: 


  • Specialization. Since each division aids one area of focus, they develop specialized skills and knowledge that lead to better outcomes for their constituents. 
  • Better resource allocation. Divisions are responsible for their budget and resources, so they can direct resources to the areas of greatest need and impact. 
  • Fast and flexible. Having a specific area of focus allows divisions to respond quickly to changes in funding, policy, or other external factors. 
  • Customization. Each division can tailor its programs and services to specific community needs, resulting in more targeted and impactful work. 


  • Duplicate efforts and costs. Divisions often require their own admin support and infrastructure.
  • Consistency issues. Maintaining consistency with programs, campaigns, and outcomes is difficult, particularly if each division has its own goals and messaging. 
  • Coordination challenges. Coordinating activities across divisions is challenging when they each have their own strategies and work cultures. 


In a matrix organizational structure, employees are grouped based on their function (such as development, outreach, visitor services) and a program area. For example, a gifts officer might be part of the development team but fundraise only for special events. The special events division would comprise employees in different functional areas, such as communications, operations, and HR, all working together on the same special events.   

On an organizational chart, a matrix structure usually looks like a grid or matrix, with functional departments listed on one axis and a program or project team listed on the other. Each employee sits at the intersection of their functional department and assigned program. Staff reports to two managers: one who oversees their daily tasks (function) and one who manages the program. 

Because the matrix structure is essentially a combination of a functional and divisional structure (and often grouped by geography), it brings advantages and disadvantages from both sides. 


  • Focus for managers. By allowing managers to specialize in administrative or project manager roles, they can concentrate on developing expertise in one field. This reduces their workload and the risk of burnout and improves retention rates.   
  • Better collaboration. Grouped staff with different expertise collaborate toward a shared goal, enhancing communication, coordination, and cooperation. 
  • Professional development. The staff gains broader experience and exposure to a range of nonprofit functions from working with others who have different professional skills from their own.  


  • Confusing roles. Because direct reports have two managers in a matrix structure, they can need clarification about whom to go to for different issues, potentially leading to conflicts between the managers. 
  • More expensive. More management roles mean more management costs. 
  • Difficult to evaluate. Measuring individual performance and providing feedback is challenging, as employees report to multiple managers.  

How nonprofits benefit from organizational chart software

Organizational charts are the universal tool for visualizing organizational structure. Because your employees are your most powerful asset for accomplishing your mission, visualizing how they get there is critical. By aligning people data with operations in an organizational chart, nonprofits can address the challenges of their cause and use their workforce more effectively to make a more significant impact. 

Here are seven key benefits of using organizational charts at your nonprofit:

  1. Visualize your organizational structure. Org charts make it easier for employees to understand the structure and where they fit into the organization. 
  2. Clarify responsibilities and relationships. Quickly understand the reporting relationships between managers and staff and the span of control within each manager’s purview. 
  3. Build trust with donors. Increase transparency and build trust by demonstrating fund allocation to donors.
  4. Leverage volunteers more effectively. Generate custom charts with volunteer data to understand how you can maximize their contributions more effectively.
  5. Save time on everyday tasks. Professional org chart software automates chart creation, data updates, and formatting. 
  6. Optimize planning. Use organizational charts to make informed decisions about staffing and resource allocation.
  7. Ensure compliance. Stay 501(c)(3) compliant with regulatory authorities by maintaining an accurate and up-to-date copy of your org chart.   

* Read this blog post for even more org chart benefits for nonprofits

At OrgChart, we’re working with national and multinational nonprofits to help them reach our software’s full potential, streamline their HR operations, and achieve their HR goals more efficiently and easily. 

Regarding the breadth of features and analytical capabilities, OrgChart is light years ahead of the competition. In addition to the benefits previously mentioned, OrgChart can also help you:

  • See the chart you need when you need it. OrgChart automates charting tasks and integrates with HRIS solutions, so it’s always available to you and your staff. 
  • Model multiple structures. For downsizing, upsizing, or pivoting, use OrgChart to plan major operational shifts. 
  • Blend datasets for greater visibility. Combine different sets of HR data on your chart to discover rich insights and patterns in your workforce.
  • Track performance data. Visualize high-performers and at-risk staff so you can plan the next steps.    

Professional software like OrgChart elevates your HR team’s ability to respond to organizational challenges. It’s the industry standard for generating automated charts and facilitating workforce planning exercises. 

Request a demo today to see how OrgChart can benefit your nonprofit. 

What types of nonprofits need organizational charts?

Nonprofit icons

Ideally, anyone registering a 501(c)(3) would create their first organizational chart to map out their employees or volunteers and roles. They’d update it as they scale and learn key insights about their growth by keeping tabs on the changes made over the years.

In reality, many nonprofits don’t think about their organizational structure until they experience growing pains.   

All nonprofits can benefit from having an organizational chart, but the need varies based on size, mission, complexity, and industry classification. These factors determine a nonprofit’s structure and, in turn, influence its need to visualize that structure on an organizational chart. 


Generally, the more employees you have, the more you’ll benefit from a defined structure and organizational chart. But even small nonprofits should begin thinking about a formal structure in their early days. As you grow, an organizational chart allows you to plan for new hires, transfers, and opportunities for succession. Your organizational chart should be a guide for your growth rather than an afterthought.  

Mission, goals, and programs

Your mission, strategic goals, and programs can influence your organizational structure. A nonprofit with a single goal may have a simple structure with everyone working towards that goal. A nonprofit with a broad mission or multiple goals might require multiple divisions to serve them all. 

For instance, a regional animal shelter rescues animals, but they might need different departments assigned to veterinary care, special events, facilities, education and outreach, and adoptions. Even if volunteers do much of the work, they benefit from organizing recruits into a formal structure. 


Nonprofits with multiple departments or teams assigned to different programs may benefit from organizational charts. For example, a climate advocacy organization with divisions for green infrastructure, marine life protection, alternative energies, and other groups has specialized teams in each division working on policy, research, events, fundraising, and more. A nonprofit in this complex would benefit from charting its organization’s growth in its early stages before it becomes unwieldy to manage. 


A nonprofit’s industry also influences its need for an organizational chart. For instance, healthcare and human services nonprofits must create charts for regulatory compliance. Similarly, nonprofits in education need them for accreditation or licensing requirements. 

How to create an organizational chart for your nonprofit

Here are step-by-step instructions for creating your nonprofit organizational chart:

  1. Choose your organizational structure. Whether you’re charting your existing org structure or formalizing a new structure, now is the time to involve your executives, as any structural changes can potentially impact staff positions and mission-based objectives.
  2. Determine the purpose and scope of your chart. Decide why you need the chart and what information it should contain. Who is the chart for, and will it be used internally or externally? Do you need multiple versions with different details? How often will you update it? What data sources will you use? Knowing these answers will help you choose the best charting tool.
  3. Choose your charting tool. Several tools create organizational charts, ranging from free, do-it-yourself options to paid software with premium features. While free software may seem cost-effective, it’s essential to consider that the paid options will save you time and give you advanced insights to help you make more informed decisions.
  4. Identify critical roles and teams. Identify the positions to include in the chart, such as upper management, front-line staff, board of directors, trustees, and volunteers who perform critical duties. If you have defined departments or divisions, include those group assignments as well.
  5. Determine reporting relationships. Determine how the positions relate and ensure you designate those relationships in your HR management system. Who reports to whom? What positions are responsible for which areas of the organization? How do teams or departments fit into the overall reporting structure?
  6. Build your chart. If using a professional tool, start by integrating your data sources or uploading your raw data. Choose the structure and style you want, and automatically generate your chart. If designing it yourself, start with your board and the highest-level position in the organization and work your way down. Include any relevant information such as title, pronouns, or certifications. Connect staff positions with lines to highlight reporting relationships.
  7. Perform maintenance. Once complete, review your chart regularly and update it as often as required. Ensure that your underlying data sources are accurate and complete so you can get the most from your org chart.   

Following these steps, you can create an organizational chart that seamlessly communicates your nonprofit’s operating structure and reporting relationships. 

Eight best practices for building your nonprofit organizational chart

Creating and maintaining your nonprofit’s organizational chart can be complex, but these eight best practices can help streamline the process. 

Org chart best practices

Always start with your mission and goals.

Whether you’re creating your first organizational chart or restructuring, your chart should always align with your nonprofit’s mission and goals. It seems obvious, but the mission is the foundation for your work. It should guide you in determining the roles and functions required to accomplish your goals. 

For example, suppose your nonprofit’s mission is to reduce homelessness. In that case, your goals might be to increase the number of shelter beds available, provide job training, and advocate for policies that support affordable housing. To achieve these, you need staff to coordinate with local shelters, an entire division for training and education, and a department of staff who focus on public awareness and campaigning for reform.

Once you’ve identified what roles you need to fulfill your mission, you can create a chart that reflects this. 

Use technology to your advantage.

An organizational chart is more than just a visual of your operating structure. It’s a powerful HR intelligence tool that helps you work better. You need to find the right platform for your needs. 

A simple drawing tool may suffice if you’re in the early stages of your nonprofit with few staff and programs. On the other hand, mid-size and large nonprofits may benefit from a cloud-based platform or visualization tool that’s integrated with an established HR system.

OrgChart combines the practicality of an automated design tool with the functionality of an HR intelligence system. Not only can you design beautiful charts in just a few clicks, but you can combine different datasets with your chart to answer relevant questions about your workforce, such as:

  • What competencies do our board members have?
  • What are our volunteer demographics?
  • Are we reaching our employee diversity goals
  • Where are our underperformers?
  • How many roles do we need to add if we reorganize? 

OrgChart’s ability to call and customize multiple datasets empowers HR teams with virtually limitless possibilities to enhance their work. 

Keep the chart simple.

The most effective organizational charts are simple and uncluttered. Even if your visualization tool offers advanced styling, avoid using too many colors, symbols, or box shapes. Stick with your nonprofit’s branding (logo, logo colors, font type). Keep symbols minimal so they aren’t misinterpreted. Also, don’t try to squeeze lots of information into each box. It’s unnecessary, especially if your org chart tool can quickly generate different versions of data. 

You’ll also want to avoid complex charts with too many levels or departments and unclear reporting relationships. Group employees with the same function into one box, like “Programmers,” and click to expand into individual positions as needed.  

Use clear and concise job titles or functions, avoiding acronyms and industry jargon as much as possible. Your organizational chart should be easy to read and understand, and external audiences may need help understanding the technical terms you use internally. 

Include cross-functional teams and informal communication channels.

Show how teams collaborate across departments or how information flows through informal channels. For example, create a separate box or shape for each cross-functional team. Use different colors or shading to differentiate between these teams and their everyday roles. 

Similarly, use arrows or lines to highlight informal communication channels supporting different organization areas. For example, you could draw a line between two boxes to represent a regular staff meeting between those departments. 

It’s important to note that while including these elements in your organizational chart is helpful, you don’t want to overwhelm or complicate the chart with unnecessary information. Consider which audiences would benefit more from seeing these additional teams and channels and create a different version for those purposes.  

Involve staff members in the process.

Design your organizational chart with input from key stakeholders, such as your board of directors, executive team, and department heads. Gather feedback from staff members about their responsibilities, professional designations, and accuracy. Ensure the chart accurately reflects your nonprofit’s day-to-day operations. 

You also want to get feedback on the chart’s usability. Is it easy to read and understand? Could someone quickly identify how your nonprofit works? An easy way to collect feedback is to make the chart accessible to teams by integrating it with your user payroll system. Create a survey to accompany the charts for streamlined response gathering. Just be sure that the version you share is free of any sensitive information. 

With OrgChart, sharing charts is fast and easy. You can export charts via the web or PDF and access them through integrations with HR platforms like ADP, Paylocity, Paychex, and more

Include volunteers and contractors.

If your nonprofit relies on volunteers or contractors, include them in your chart. This might look like a “Volunteers” box within each department or a separate department of volunteers. 

By including volunteers and contractors on your org chart, you identify patterns useful for workforce planning. For example, you may discover you could reduce the quantity and budget for paid contractors by recruiting volunteers to take on some of their responsibilities. Also, seeing the roles that volunteers and contractors perform helps you identify where to hire more staff. 

Visualizing volunteer and contractor roles on your org chart helps you better understand their contributions so you can plan your workforce more effectively. 

Be proactive, not reactive.

Organizational charts are more than just visualization tools. They help you reorganize or restructure, perform analysis, improve your HR data, assist with workforce planning, and more. When you use org charts proactively, they guide your nonprofit’s growth, keep communication streamlined, and identify gaps in your structure. 

Organizational charts give internal and external audiences a clear understanding of your operating structure. As you prepare for growth, you can scale up more easily to add more employees or departments as needed. Similarly, visualizing your growth will help you identify where and when to add additional roles and teams. 

Proactively planning for growth is easy with OrgChart, as it allows you to model different structures and growth scenarios with just a few clicks. 

Review and update your organizational chart regularly.

Update your org chart regularly to reflect changes in staffing, programs, and roles, so you make decisions according to your current needs. Thankfully, some org chart platforms automate this task for you.  

With OrgChart, you never need to enter data manually or format boxes again. Whether you have 50 employees or 5,000, OrgChart syncs your HR source data automatically and reformats the design as needed. Create charts quickly and easily, and invest your valuable time elsewhere. 

Elevate your nonprofit organizational chart with OrgChart

OrgChart provides all the features you need to make better HR decisions:

✔ Visualize your entire nonprofit with beautiful, branded org charts

✔ Model multiple datasets for rich insights into your workforce

✔ Automate, collaborate and plan for any possibilityOrgChart seamlessly integrates with your existing HRIS solutions, and our dedicated support team can guide you every step of the way.