Thursday, July 3, 2014

Whose Job Is It Anyway? Board vs. Staff Roles

Are you confused about how to determine Board vs. staff roles? Is there disagreement and tension between Board and staff in regard to who is in charge? Does your Executive Director feel that the Board is micromanaging implementation of organizational programs? Does your Board think the Executive Director is not doing enough fundraising?

You're not alone. Most nonprofits grapple with how to designate basic responsibilities, and want to know the "right" way to do it. But - there is no one correct model. Younger, smaller, more grassroots organizations typically have significant Board involvement in program management. Older, bigger organizations tend to move towards a model where the Board sets policies and oversees the work. As organizations grow and expand, Board and staff roles will keep changing. And conflicts frequently arise at moments when change is necessary. These moments - as hard as they may be - are often a gateway to positive and creative growth that can open new doors and build organizational capacity.

Here are some very basic guidelines that apply to most nonprofits:

The Board has primary responsibility for:
  • Hiring, evaluating, and firing the Executive Director
  • Understanding, analyzing, monitoring, and approving the annual budget
  • Recruiting Board members
  • Setting, approving, and reviewing organizational policies
  • Ensuring legal compliance
The Executive Director has primary responsibility for:
  • Hiring, managing, evaluating, and firing organizational staff
  • Overseeing and managing the day-to-day program and organizational decisions.
  • Providing accurate and timely information to the Board to support informed decision-making
That said, the Board should always respect and value the Executive Director's input, and the Executive Director should always respect and value the input of the Board.

Effective fundraising and public outreach go hand in hand - and require hard work from everyone. I am a firm believer that a strong, sustainable fundraising and outreach program requires active participation from both Board and staff. That means it's not okay for the Board to suggest, when money is short, that the Executive Director write a grant (or organize a fundraiser or find some new donors). And it's not okay for the Executive Director to whine about the Board's unwillingness to ask people for money without providing appropriate training and doing his/her part in making asks.

Scheduling an annual Board assessment, as well as using the annual Executive Director performance review positively and strategically, will help you to evaluate what's working and what's not. Your ongoing goal is a shared governance structure where the Board and staff work as a team, with an understanding that the balance of responsibilities will evolve and change over time.

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