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Board Policy
10/31/2014 12:00 AM

CEO Linda Osmundson and her board in St. Petersburg, Fla., are thoughtful in their approach to board contact with program participants.

If your board recruitment pool has candidates from your organization’s volunteers, from the executive’s perspective, this can present a thorny board member/program participant contact issue.

After all, a former volunteer may have had some regular—and meaningful—interaction with program participants.

CEO Linda Osmundson (St. Petersburg, Fla.; said her board makes it policy that board members cannot volunteer in the organization’s programs. “That makes it generally unlikely that they would have interactions individually with program participants,” she said.

There are better ways for board members to “touch” your nonprofit’s programs and interact with those you serve. Osmundson shares some ideas that work at her organization, CASA (Community Action Stops Abuse):

  • Have program participants participate at board meetings. Osmundson says the board might hear a presentation from a client on a particular topic or simply hear his or her story at the meeting.
  • Have program participants present at fundraisers. Board members can interact with your clients in that type of setting, Osmundson says.
  • Count on interaction during facility tours. This is a logical time for board/client interaction. “Program participants may meet and speak with our board members when the trustees tour our facilities,” she said.
  • Run into each other at the organization’s annual meeting. Osmundson said that board members often attend potlucks and picnics at the organization and interaction occurs during these settings.

Client/board member contact shouldn’t be flatly discouraged because it’s the type of interaction that taps into board members’ passion for your cause and keeps them engaged, but one issue to be considered regarding board/program participant contact is a strong confidentiality policy, Osmundson said. Her organization has a very specific policy about the confidentiality of program participants, she said.

“Thus, if a board member referred [his] neighbor to our CASA emergency shelter, the board member could not call her and ask to speak to the neighbor in our shelter unless the neighbor has given us a release for the board member to talk to her,” Osmundson said.

The need for client confidentiality creates another issue, Osmundson said. Board members are prohibited by policy from reading confidential files on a program participant for any reason, she said.

10/24/2014 12:00 AM

These ideas from Executive Director Jan Mancinelli in Petoskey, Mich., can help you get more from your orientation of new board members.

Executive Director Jan Mancinelli (Petoskey, Mich.; considers orientation of her new board members to be vital. “I have always thought of it as one of the most important tasks I do in establishing a good board relationship,” she said.

While new member orientation is a time to learn how the organization operates, Mancinelli said she focuses on good governance. “Our orientation literally reviews every aspect of the corporate and business operation of the agency,” she said.

Mancinelli covers board governance, the budget, where the organization’s funds come from and the legal and fiduciary responsibilities of board service.

“I spend time reviewing governance policies and the role of the board, committees and my role as executive director,” she said. “I review the separation and delegation of duties between the board, myself and the staff.”

Mancinelli reinforces this information by stressing its importance and why it is important to operate in this manner.

“I also spend time discussing the board being a policymaking board and not ‘hands-on,’” Mancinelli said. She backs this up by giving examples of how the board will monitor and provide oversight, and what information the board will receive to help them ensure they are exercising their responsibility in the organization.

Her orientation approach stresses governance, Mancinelli said, but she does spend time on service delivery and programs. “Throughout the year, we open every board meeting with a 20-minute program or service-related training,” she said.

Mancinelli said orientation of her new board members is the time she uses to establish trust and credibility with them. “It is important to be strong and confident,” she said. “This is the most intense time I will spend with them in their tenure as a board member.”

After orientation, members should come away with understanding of the organization’s mission, vision and values, and the importance of their role in carrying out that mission, she said.

From the Board Doctor
10/16/2014 12:00 AM

This cautionary tale shows executive directors why it is important to know your board members as individuals and understand their needs.

Something as simple as a board member’s ego nearly cost a California nonprofit executive her job recently. This story from the Hotline is a good reminder of how important it is for the executive director to know his board members well and meet their personal board-service needs. Here’s what happened:

“My board chair forced through a bylaws change, and as a result of that, micromanagement became rampant around here,” she said. The problems at the organization spun out of control so quickly that a state oversight agency eventually became involved and demanded that the bylaws be revised again to fix the problems, she said.

This organization had been performing well, and the administrator was meeting the board’s goals for the nonprofit. “My board was giving me a lot of credit for the agency’s success, and I was trying to give the board its due credit as well,” the California executive said.

“My problem was that my board chair felt left out when the credit was being handed out,” she said.

Problems escalated rapidly at that point, and the executive still remembers how upsetting it was when another board member told her the chair “planned to take her down a notch.”

The chair started orchestrating employee complaints. “He really ramped up the tension when he had one of those employees trump up some serious charges against me,” she said. “At that point, the chair tried to relieve me of my duties.”

The organization’s bylaws prevented this unilateral move by the chair, so the chair made the necessary moves to change the bylaws to give himself the necessary power to act. In fact, the chair made himself CEO of the nonprofit, the California executive said.

To achieve this, the chair scheduled board meetings when many board members could not attend, and insisted that he didn’t need a majority of the board present at the meetings to install himself as the CEO, but only a majority at the meeting to vote him in as chair, the administrator said.

It took a year to get this situation reversed, and only after many nightmarish meetings and damage to the nonprofit. “He used intimidation and yelling to run off key employees during this year,” she said.

What did the California executive learn from this fiasco? “Strengthen your bylaws by making a supermajority of the board a requirement to alter them,” she said.

While that may or may not be a good idea for your organization, this story illustrates a key point about the board and administrator relationship: Nonprofit executives need to spend a great deal of time building a personal relationship with each board member. If the California nonprofit executive had better understood that she had a board chair with a massive ego that needed stroking, maybe the damage to the organization could have been prevented.

Successful administrators don’t leave much to chance when it comes to relationships with their board members. They make conscious efforts to know each board member’s needs and interests — and then meet them.


Jeff Stratton, Editor


10/11/2013 12:00 AM
Longtime Board & Administrator-For Administrators Only reader CEO Rod Braun (Pella, Iowa), offers strategies to improve this example grievance procedure.

Take a couple of minutes to review the following problem resolution/grievance process used by one nonprofit to resolve employee grievances. See if you can spot the danger area for the executive director.

Then read the comments from longtime Board & Administrator reader CEO Rod Braun (Pella, Iowa) that will improve this policy to make it work better for the administrator.

Problem Resolution/Grievance Process

  • Employee grievances have been defined as anything in the employee’s work relationship that causes distress, complaints or feelings of having been treated unfairly or improperly by a supervisor, department head, member of the administrative staff or fellow employee. It is only natural for occasional problems to arise between employees, or between an employee and a supervisor. Administration recognizes this, and will maintain the following orderly grievance procedure:
  • Any employee with a problem or grievance related to his employment may present the grievance to his immediate supervisor, who shall give it prompt consideration and a reasonable answer if it is within her jurisdiction to do so.
  • If the employee is not satisfied by the action taken under Step 1, within seven (7) days after the supervisor takes the action, she may present the grievance in writing to her department head. The department head will meet with the employee and attempt to resolve the matter.
  • If the employee is not satisfied by the action taken under Step 2, he may appeal the matter to the Administrator. If the matter is not resolved to the employee’s satisfaction by the Administrator, the employee may, within seven (7) days after such action is taken, make a written request for a hearing. At this point in time, the Administrator shall appoint three (3) or more organization employees from departments other than the employee’s department to serve as a committee to conduct a hearing on the matter. The committee shall investigate both sides of the issue and, within five (5) days after the investigation is completed, make a recommendation to the Administrator. Promptly thereafter, the Administrator shall make a decision on the matter. The Administrator’s decision will be considered final.

From the CEO’s perspective, Braun’s main issue with this policy starts with step 3. “I’m not fond of having an appointed group of employees from other departments acting in an advisory capacity and then making a recommendation to the CEO,” he said. “I think word would get out in an organization that an employee with a concern took it to the appointed group but that the CEO went against their recommendation.”

If that happens, expect two possible outcomes: one is that no one will ever want to be appointed to hear such a grievance for fear the process is just tokenism and the other is that since the appointees are only advisory to the CEO, the aggrieved employee would probably see the process as a waste of time.

On the pro side of step 3, Braun said it can be argued that CEOs don’t always make perfect calls and that is why he is asking for a recommendation from an appointed group. “For this policy to work effectively, I think the CEO would have to follow the recommendation at least ninety-five percent of the time,” he said.

If you are a CEO with a grievance policy like this, periodically give data to your employees so that you can demonstrate your veto of the appointed group’s recommendation is seldom used, Braun suggests.

The CEO can use an approach similar to this one but without creating a formal appointed group. “When a grievance gets to my level, I generally consult with a small group of senior management staff before making a decision,” he said.

Braun also periodically explains some of the positive outcomes of a grievance (such as grievances that led to policy or practice changes). “People often think that if you file a formal grievance you will get fired or never receive another pay raise,” Braun said. “The CEO needs to be able to demonstrate some positive outcomes from employees who have used the procedure.”

To address this reprisal issue and further improve this policy, add some type of statement that retaliation/reprisal will not be tolerated against any person filing a formal grievance.


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  • Meet the Editor

    Jeff Stratton

    Jeff Stratton has edited Board & Administrator since 1992. As the Board Doctor, he has advised thousands of executive directors and board members on issues like prevention of
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