Easy Guide to Building a Nonprofit Org Chart

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Why Your Nonprofit Needs an Org Chart

Nonprofit org charts, also known as hierarchy charts, help organizations visualize management by illustrating staff roles, relationships, and levels. Traditionally used by HR to track positions, reporting structures, and hiring needs, these charts have evolved into essential tools for internal communication and growth planning.

According to Whole Whale President & COO Megan Anhalt, “Too many organizations rely on simple management reporting lines to define their nonprofit org chart. But this often doesn’t account for cross-functional roles and collaboration common in smaller nonprofit settings that require a more thoughtful approach to organizational design.”

Org charts are invaluable for new employees especially, helping them to put faces to names and understand how different roles work within the nonprofit’s larger departmental ecosystem. They aid employees looking to enact change by clarifying the flow of decision-making within the organization, as well as pathways to promotion. Most importantly, nonprofit org charts enable managers and hiring staff to see which departments have room to grow and which are more constrained, facilitating better planning and communication within the team. In summary, clear and updated nonprofit org charts help build more functional teams.

Types of Nonprofit Org Charts

Consider which type of nonprofit org chart is right for you. The style and size of your nonprofit’s org chart will depend on your organization’s structure and size. Here are some common types:

Top-Down Org Chart

A top-down organization chart is the most straightforward and traditional type of org chart. Ideal for smaller organizations, this chart places the most senior individual at the top, with all reports below in a vertical hierarchy. All subsequent levels of management and staff are placed below in descending order of authority, with primary decision-making at the nonprofit flowing up to the CEO or Executive Director.

This type of org chart has a simple and clear structure that is easy to understand and implement. A top-down org chart provides a clear visual representation of the chain of comment and its easy navigation simplifies the understanding on who reports to who.

Functional Organization Chart

If your nonprofit organization is oriented around different departments, this is the org chart for you. A functional organization chart is structured according to the different functions or departments within your nonprofit organization, such as Development, Programs, and Marketing. It starts with the senior suite at the top, followed by departmental heads and their respective teams. The addition of horizontal layers helps show the relationship between different departments, and the department-centered orientation emphasizes the expertise and specialization within department functions.

A functional org chart helps build understanding of the roles and responsibilities of each department and illustrates specializations or expertise within departments, such as Email or Partnerships. This also helps to facilitate better coordination and and communication within departments and clarifies who the key decision-makers when initiating cross-functional collaboration.

Cross-Functional Organization Chart

For smaller teams with multiple departments or reporting relationships and a lot of cross-functional collaboration, this chart can help depict both the traditional hierarchical reporting relationships and the project-based or cross-departmental relationships. We love cross-functional org charts for organizations that have team members who work across multiple projects and report to different managers depending on the project. It is a great way to help clarify the flow of cross-team collaboration, such as how an Email Associate may report in to the Marketing Department but who works closely under the Development Manager in the delivery of fundraising appeals.

Cross-functional org charts combine vertical (hierarchical) and horizontal (cross-departmental) lines of authority. It also allows for visualizing dual reporting relationships when employees may work under both a functional manager and a project manager. This type of org chart is the most flexible because it lets you show how individuals contribute to different projects and teams and is adaptable based on organizational needs. In doing so, it is the org chart most likely to encourage collaboration across departments and projects. A cross-functional org chart is also the most efficient org structure because it leverages employee skills across departments, versus requiring your team to hire for specific skills within each department who needs it.

By understanding the different types of nonprofit organizational charts, you can choose the one that best fits your organization’s structure and needs, ensuring clear communication and efficient management. For even more types of org charts and for-profit examples, check out this resource from Pingboard.

Essential Elements for an Effective Nonprofit Org Chart

To create a useful nonprofit org chart for your team, we recommend including the following information:

  • Names
  • Roles or job titles
  • Departments (if applicable)
  • Manager and reporting relationships

We also recommend enhancing your chart with color coding and different shapes to illustrate departments and roles. Additional useful information includes:

Consider adding a description of departments and an outline of expectations for each level if these are consistent across the team. Define what is expected of an associate versus a manager and outline the accomplishments or milestones needed for promotion. This helps employees understand their current roles and provides clear goals for advancement, increasing retention. When employees feel like there is a clear and attainable path at an organization, they are more likely to stay on board.

Best Tools for Creating Nonprofit Org Charts

Creating an org chart doesn’t require design skills—just the right tool. Here are some easy to use options that we recommend to nonprofits to get you started:


An awesome free design tool with plenty of templates. We also have some tips on using the platform.


Typically a content planner, Airtable also allows you to build collaborative org charts.


A Google tool that is typically used for flow charts, but can be repurposed for your org chart if you already have the Google suite.

Microsoft Office

Like Google, Microsoft also has their own org chart tool. Great to use if you already have the suite.


A paid tool for the more advanced org chart builders, plus they have lots of free resources.

Step-by-Step Guide to Building Your Nonprofit Org Chart

  1. Define Your Structure: Determine your organization’s hierarchy and the relationships between roles.
  2. Choose a Tool: Select a tool that fits your needs and familiarize yourself with its features.
  3. Input Information: Enter names, roles, departments, and reporting relationships.
  4. Customize Visuals: Use colors and shapes to differentiate departments and roles.
  5. Add Details: Include headshots, contact information, and location details for remote teams where relevant.
  6. Outline Expectations: Provide a guide outlining what is expected at each level and the path to promotion.
  7. Review and Update: Regularly update your org chart to reflect changes and keep it relevant.

Now you’re ready to build your nonprofit org chart! By following this guide, you can create a simple and effective nonprofit org chart that enhances internal communication and supports organizational growth. Have questions? Tweet us @WholeWhale for support.