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Board/Staff Relationship
9/14/2017 12:00 AM

A Board Issues Hotline caller describes a thorny problem concerning board/staff contact in this Board & Administrator feature.

I received a Board Issues Hotline (515.963.7972; call from a Missouri administrator who has a serious problem.

His newly formed board personnel committee is concerned about staff morale and is planning to make a “suggestion box” available to the organization’s employees. The committee chair’s method for this suggestion box? Just email your complaints, suggestions and thoughts to the committee chair!

“I don’t even know where this idea came from,” said the Missouri executive director.

Here’s where this type of board action comes from: Board members are volunteers, and for the most part are well-meaning when they propose “suggestion boxes.” As volunteers, they typically have very little day-to-day contact with the organization, so they often wonder how things are going in certain areas—such as “Are employees happy?”

When enough board members start thinking this way, watch out. Management of staff is the CEO’s responsibility. It is your job to ensure that staff is being listened to—that their complaints and suggestions are given thorough and fair hearings and then acted upon when they are good for the nonprofit.

When board members express a desire to know more about employees and their work, show them turnover rates, evidence of how you resolve standard staff grievances, staff awards and testimonials from those you serve that focus on employee care and interactions.

Maybe the best way to keep a personnel committee or the board from stepping out of line is through an online survey to find out what is on your employees’ minds. A survey on Survey Monkey ( will help you uncover any below-the-surface issues that staff are hesitant to bring to your attention. These might be occurring in the areas of morale, communication, accountability or the direction the nonprofit is taking.

This activity may be well worth your while, because if you do not undertake it, someday the board may do it for you.


Jeff Stratton, Editor


8/31/2017 12:00 AM

Use these exit interview questions from Executive Director David Cook (Hendersonville, N.C.) and his board to improve governance at your nonprofit.

Name of Board Member:




1) How, when and why did you first become associated with IAM?

2) Reason for leaving the Board?

3) What did you enjoy most about your service on the IAM Board? What have you liked least?

4) I would describe my experience serving on the Board as

    A) Excellent   B) Good  C) Satisfying   D) Frustrating  E) Nonproductive

5) Were your talents and expertise utilized? Was there a difference between what was expected of you and what is reasonable to expect?


6) I would be willing to return to service with IAM at another time. Yes   No    When?

7) I would recommend the Board experience to my friends and associates. Yes   No    If Yes, please recommend someone.

8) What are the two most important issues IAM needs to address in the short term?

  • a.
  • b.

9) What are the two most important issues IAM needs to address in the long term?

  • a.
  • b.

10) Please give any other comments or suggestions regarding your experiences with IAM that might be helpful to present or future members.    

Source: Executive Director David Cook, Interfaith Assistance Ministry, Hendersonville, N.C.

8/24/2017 12:00 AM

CEO Dale Morrissey in Champaign, Ill., shares his five-step approach to orienting new board members.

Failure to thoroughly orient a new board member often leads to the downfall of the nonprofit executive.

CEO Dale Morrissey (Champaign, Ill., uses this five-prong approach to start new board members off on good footing:

  1. Present a board manual. “We have a very comprehensive board manual,” said Morrissey. “Each board member receives a copy and we keep it updated.”
  2. The board manual covers topics such as: the organization’s history, mission, philosophy, program descriptions, a board member list with contact information, committee assignments and descriptions, an organizational chart, a copy of the budget, the bylaws, and policies and procedures.

  3. The chair and CEO should meet with the new member. “The current president and I meet jointly with the new member to review the board manual and outline the responsibilities of being a board member,” said Morrissey.
  4. Participating in the orientation together shows the new member that the board and management are on the same page, he said. “It gives us an opportunity to clarify the board’s functions and role versus management’s,” Morrissey said.

  5. Offer mentor guidance. Morrissey said the mentor program is informal, but a veteran board member is assigned to the new member.
  6. Provide program tours. Program directors meet new board members and provide an individual tour. “This way, new board members get to know other leaders in the organization and receive a better idea of what services and supports we offer,” he said.
  7. Follow up. “I also make follow-up calls every few weeks and months to make sure the new member is getting the support they need to function as a productive board member,” Morrissey said.
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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    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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