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Board/Staff Relationship
2/9/2018 12:00 AM

Certain topics, like their relationship with staff, are just confusing to board members, B&A Editor Jeff Stratton explains in this feature.

The plain fact is some board members don’t understand why their contact with staff should be channeled through the CEO. Some examples:

Board concern: “We should have a say in who gets hired.”

It’s my firm belief that hiring staff should be the executive director’s job—not the board’s. The CEO can ameliorate frustration to some extent by explaining the process used to select new staff. When board members are more comfortable that your system is thorough and professional, they’ll back off their interest in hiring staff.

When you hire a key staff member, tell the board what you looked for in applicants, where you looked, how many applied, how many you interviewed and how the person hired fits your original criteria.

Who you hire should be your decision. When you give board members confidence you made the right decision, their concern should dwindle.

Board concern: “I am worried about staff morale. How can I tell if staff are happy in their jobs? Even when a staff member brings a concern to me, I have to tell him to bring it to the executive director.”

I’m convinced that when a board sets out to “improve staff relations,” that’s what they really want to do—not take power from you or exercise power over staff comings and goings.

That’s an honorable motive, so here are a few strategies to let the board know that staff morale is high—even if an employee complains:

  • Arrange social events where staff and board can get to know one another outside the work setting.
  • Keep the board well-informed about staff achievements, staff promotions and new initiatives by staff. Bring staff to board meetings to discuss their programs. This is the sign the board needs from the executive director that all is well with staff.
  • Encourage the board to recognize staff, reward them and regularly say “thanks.”


Jeff Stratton, Editor; 515.963.7972

Board and Staff Relationship
2/2/2018 12:00 AM

Use this policy when board members flood nonprofit staff with requests for work.

Your staff have better things to do than spend a full workweek generating a report for a board member. Those types of requests eat up far too much of a staff member’s time.

No board member should treat the nonprofit’s employees as his personal assistants. To resolve the matter, treat it as a full board issue and not something the board should expect its executive director to “fix” or handle for the board.

For boards where this is a serious, ongoing problem, I recommend the board adopt a one-hour rule to manage requests from board members for staff work. Here’s how it works: For a board member to make a request for staff work, the work must take no more than one hour of staff time, and must be related to one of the nonprofit’s strategic goals. If the request meets these criteria, then the board member must present the request to the full board and get a majority of board members to approve the request.

This approach takes the onus off staff, who may be uncomfortable being asked by a board member to perform work, and removes the executive director from the equation. It makes board requests for staff work a board issue, which is where the responsibility lies for these types of decisions.

The Board Doctor’s recommendation: Write a board policy on board requests for information. In your policy, consider these areas: requests for information during board meetings, requests for information outside of board meetings, requests for information related to the board meeting agenda, program-specific requests and how responses from staff will be disseminated to the board.


Jeff Stratton, Editor


1/25/2018 12:00 AM

Prevent board micromanagement of the nonprofit executive with this strategy from Board & Administrator.

President and CEO Diane Price ( said the prime time to be wary of board intrusion into personnel management is typically when new members join the board or there is a change in board leadership.

“The best strategy I use for fixing this is enlisting the support of current board members or the previous board leadership,” Price said.

“Over the past few years our board officers have done a good job of ‘training and preparing’ new officers for the transition to board officer. It also helps that our new board members participate in an orientation that covers their role,” Price said.

Price’s organization is 120 years old; it is well-managed and well-staffed with committed professionals in every department. “From time to time, however, the enthusiasm of new board members will require some intervention,” she said. “I remind them of the role of a good policy board and how difficult it is for me to lead the organization when a board member thinks they can supervise staff.”

When the top board officer is the individual who tries to intervene in the management of your staff, the situation can become very dicey for the CEO.

“A few years ago, I had a board chair that went rogue,” Price said. “It was a very difficult year and when this person’s name came up to fill another leadership position, I had to have a very hard conversation with the board governance committee.

“I told them I couldn’t stay on as CEO if this person continued in a leadership role,” Price said. “They had the conversation with their peer and he soon resigned.”

3/10/2017 12:00 AM

This resource from Board & Administrator helps board members assess their engagement level with the organization.

2/24/2017 12:00 AM

In Brian Foss and the Horatio Alger Association’s book, Governing Effective Nonprofits in the 21st Century, board members can find a wealth of practical information about serving on a board.

Below, you’ll find a terrific job description for a nonprofit board member.

A Sample Board Member’s Job Description for Any Nonprofit

  • Understand and support the mission, programs and services of the organization.
  • Accept the responsibilities of being a fiduciary of a corporation that exists for the public good using tax-exempt, tax-deductible funds.
  • Make a multiyear commitment to participate actively in governance meetings and programs.
  • Be among the first, most generous and consistent annual donors.
  • Invite new people to become involved in the organization’s work and to contribute financially.
  • Assist other governance leaders in building relationships that will help the organization fulfill its mission.
  • Be a steward of the public trust and a trustee of the organization’s mission and resources.
  • Keep the board’s work focused on governance issues, policy creation and setting strategic directions for the organization’s future in a transparent and ethical manner.
  • Keep the board focused on effectiveness in fulfilling the mission and programs, and creating an organization that is best-in-class.
  • As a fiduciary, ensure that the organization is diversely funded, approve the annual budget and monitor fiscal affairs, conduct an audit annually, have fiscal controls in place, review IRS Form 990, and plan for the financial future of the corporation.
  • Ensure the board has policies in place regarding board and staff conflicts of interest, self-dealing and transparency.
  • Understand how the organization raises its funds and approve all of the fundraising practices and external contracts for fundraising.
  • Leave management matters to the organization’s CEO and help the board and staff continuously differentiate the roles of governance and management.
  • Be an advocate and ally for the CEO, assuming such support is merited. Participate in the hiring, nurturing and evaluation of the CEO.
  • Keep the board focused on the organization’s mission.


Source: Brian Foss, Governing Effective Nonprofits in the 21st Century. Reprinted with permission.

1/27/2017 12:00 AM

Use the following exercise from The Board Doctor to assess your board’s understanding of its role.

Use the following exercise to determine how clearly your board understands its role. Identify those areas where the board lacks either knowledge or information, and make plans to find them the training they need. Remember: An untrained board is a disaster (for the CEO) waiting to happen.


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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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