Social service organizations generally use a vertical hierarchal organizational structure to determine the responsibilities of each member according to his position in the organization. In large organizations, an individual will be responsible for one particular position, but in smaller ones, a staff member might wear several hats. The hierarchal structure starts at the top of the chain of command and extends to low level staff members. At the top of the organizational chart is the board of directors.

Board of Directors

Members of the board of directors are responsible for hiring and managing the executive director of an organization. Board members have a fiduciary responsibility to ensure that the organization is operated under sound financial principles. They are usually required to help with fundraising efforts and the cultivation of resources in the community to benefit the mission of the organization. They work with the executive director to establish an annual budget and set policies and procedures. Staff members can utilize the experience and services of board members, but staff members normally report directly to either the executive director or department heads -- not to the board.

Executive Director

The executive director reports directly to the board of directors and manages the day-to-day operations of the organization. She usually serves as the main spokesperson in all media and public affairs. The executive director is charged with hiring and making sure staff members are trained to perform their jobs. She manages the budget and implements changes when funding restrictions require adjustments. The executive director ensures that proper financial and program records are kept up to date and that all governmental, tax and foundation reporting requirements are met.

Department Heads

A social service organization will normally establish a number of different departments to carry out its mission. Among the most common departments are accounting, development, program Services, volunteer recruitment and facility management.

Each department is usually managed by a person who has the training and expertise to carry out assigned tasks. Department heads report directly to the executive director and have limited contact with the clientele utilizing a social service organization.


Employees with no managerial responsibilities usually make up the bulk of the staff in most social service organizations. These staff members may have specialized knowledge to work in specific departments, or they can be generalists that can be assigned to a department based on staffing needs. It is such staff members who typically work to address the needs and concerns of those who utilize social service organizations.