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Board-Staff Contact
1/6/2017 12:00 AM

CEO Howard Brooks explains why the administrator and chair must agree on the issue of staff end runs to board members in this Board & Administrator feature.

One nonprofit executive fear that never seems to abate is the threat of a nonprofit employee who makes an end run to a board member—and finds a listening ear.

This problem can create all sorts of thorny issues for the CEO, both in the board room and in the employee lounge.

For Howard Brooks, this is Reason 83 why the administrator and the board chair should be in lockstep on the issue of board/staff contact. “They must be on the same page,” said Brooks (Colorado Springs, Colo.,

“The chair must remind board members to remind complaining staff of the only conditions that make such an end run appropriate,” he said.

Those “appropriate” conditions for board-staff contact should be limited to issues such as sexual harassment complaints against the executive or evidence of CEO financial malfeasance.

The executive director should also be doing his or her part to demonstrate to staff that their genuine complaints and grievances will receive a fair hearing.

“As an administrator, I hope staff members are comfortable approaching me with any concern,” Brooks said. “That will make an end run to our board less likely for them.”

Board chair
12/16/2016 12:00 AM

Find out how to have a strong relationship with the board chair in this article by Board & Administrator Editor Jeff Stratton.

The executive director needs a positive relationship with his or her board chair, because these two individuals must work in tandem for the health of the nonprofit.

An important responsibility of the chair is to serve as a liaison between the full board and the administrator. It takes time and effort on the part of the nonprofit executive to ensure this relationship is a strong one, because you get very little or no say in who becomes the board’s leader. That is the board’s job.

The first step is to make sure that your board chair knows his role. I recommend discussing a board chair job description with your new chair any time officer rotation occurs. Key points to cover in the chair’s job description include:

  • Take charge of board meetings.
    • Begin and end the meeting on time.
    • Facilitate discussion.
    • Keep the board focused on agenda items.
    • Ensure board members have the information necessary to make good decisions.
    • Schedule regular and special meetings of the board.
  • Work as a team with the executive director.
    • Prepare the meeting agenda; plan for any special issues.
    • Meet and communicate regularly with the CEO.
    • Demonstrate support for the executive director.
    • Ensure the board gives the administrator an annual evaluation.
  • Foster teamwork.
    • Know the skills, talents and special interests of all board members.
    • Ensure board members understand their role and responsibilities; participate in the orientation of new board members.
    • Encourage board members to get to know one another.
  • Help set direction for the nonprofit.
    • Ensure that the board engages in strategic planning work when the chair and administrator prepare a board work calendar for the year.
    • Ensure the board regularly reviews and updates its policies.
    • Represent the organization.
    • Appear on behalf of the nonprofit when requested.
    • Speak for the board when required.
    • Maintain visibility and accessibility.

The importance of communication cannot be overemphasized in this relationship. The executive director needs to set up a schedule for regular communication that works for his board chair.

This can be accomplished through a weekly breakfast meeting, for example, or it might be through regular telephone contact. It’s important for the chair to select the means of communication that works for her. Then, do your best to stick to the plan of attack for communication so that it becomes habit for the both of you.

Sincerely, Jeff Stratton, Editor


Board Role
12/2/2016 12:00 AM

The executive director must understand his place in the organization, according to this feature in B&A.

Executive Director Robert Benes ( said there could be any one of a thousand reasons the executive director fails in his position and loses his job.

“If I was to distill it down to its essence, I would have to say they fail because they at some point start to believe the title on their door and forget who is boss,” Benes said. “The boss will always be the board.”

One reason for this: The executive director tends to be an action-oriented individual. Mix that personality type with a board that is slow or hesitant to make decisions or just plain contrary and “the executive director wants to step up and take charge and lead,” Benes said.

That is when trouble starts.

“This is when any of those 1,000 reasons big or small may come in and rise to the level of terminal,” Benes said. This is why the executive director always needs to keep the board “out front,” so that the CEO can survive most anything, he said.

If the executive director has gotten ahead of his or her board to the point that the board is now visible only in your rearview mirror, trouble looms. “There are countless things then that can and will trip us up,” Benes said.

1/12/2017 12:00 AM

When creating a board recruiting brochure, cover these areas to answer prospects’ questions.

Board members at HelpLine use a board recruiting brochure to make initial contact with prospects. Their brochure is effective because it was designed to emphasize key points about the organization’s work and answer prospects’ important questions about board service.

Emphasize the vital work that your organization does to board prospects

HelpLine does this by focusing on the organization’s mission and values up front:

HelpLine’s mission

The mission of HelpLine is to address the emotional, financial and information needs of the community.

Core values

Service to community

We are committed to serving our community.

Caring and respect

We believe in the value, dignity and diversity of all people.


We are committed to the highest standards of quality, integrity and the ethics of confidentiality, fairness and a nonjudgmental approach.


We are committed to educating our community.


We are committed to linking and referring volunteers in our community.

Stress the organization’s impact

HelpLine does this by highlighting a list of accomplishments, including a stark statement about the life-saving nature of its work: “Our daughter is alive and well thanks to HelpLine.”

Impact in 2014

  • 11,808 callers were helped with crisis support and community resources.
  • Close to 20,000 different needs of callers were identified.
  • 14,795 referrals were given for food, clothing, housing, mental health and substance abuse treatment, and other critical services.
  • 6,789 children, teens and adults were reached through violence and suicide prevention programs.
  • 16,976 hours of volunteering were provided to Delaware County.
  • Over 258 bags of food were distributed to hungry families after hours when pantries were closed.

Introduce the idea of the “Board”

HelpLine uses an “About the Board” section in its brochure that doesn’t list members by name (board members come and go) but instead describes the board’s duties, when it meets and attendance expectations.

About the Board

Having a dedicated and multiskilled board is critical for a nonprofit social service agency to continue to meet the needs of growing communities. It is important that we have people interested in the needs of our community and dedicated to a better quality of life in our counties.

The HelpLine board is the guiding body involved in fundraising, making policy for the agency, strategic planning, and general oversight of agency functioning, relying on the executive director to manage the day-to-day operations and administer its policies. The board meets from 6:30–8:00 p.m. (except December, April and July). There is an expectation of regular attendance and to be a member of two committees. There are a variety of committees to choose from based on interest and time availability.

Demonstrate how the board spends its time on high-level work

HelpLine’s brochure focuses the prospect’s attention on strategy and goals, not day-to-day management issues, as the primary focus of board work.

Strategic goals

HelpLine has identified and is actively engaged in working on three strategic goals for the next three to five years:

  1. Develop a strong brand that is understood and visible throughout our service areas.
  2. Develop a diverse and stable funding model that promotes long-term sustainability of services.
  3. Ensure HelpLine has the right people and the right infrastructure to meet our mission.

Share information on how to “come on board”

The HelpLine board recruiting brochure tells board prospects whom they need to contact to enter the board recruitment process, and then explains the process through nomination.

Board recruitment process

If you are interested in joining our Board, contact Executive Director Sue Hanson at 740.363.1835 ext. 107 or

You will receive detailed information about the organization, expectations of board service and an application.

Complete the application and return it to us.

You will be contacted to set up a time to meet with the executive director and a current HelpLine Board member to discuss your candidacy, answer questions and determine if it’s a good fit for all.

Your nomination goes to the full board for consideration at the next board meeting. The Board votes on all nominations.

11/11/2016 12:00 AM

Use this Committee Operations Analysis from Board & Administrator to take a critical look at how well board committees perform.

10/14/2016 12:00 AM

This resource from Board & Administrator Editor Jeff Stratton is designed to prevent communication problems between the board and executive director.

When communication failures occur between the executive director and the board, the executive typically loses the board’s confidence and eventually his job. Use the following checklist to ensure you are doing everything you can to ensure effective communication between yourself and the board.

  • Communicate with respect. Board members do not have the knowledge about the organization that you have.
  • Provide feedback on the impact of the board’s decisions. Boards make policy, but board members are interested in knowing how their decisions improve the lives of others or improve the organization’s results.
  • Talk board members through issues. Let them go through a process where they ask questions and share concerns. Then, they will be more comfortable approving your recommendation.
  • Improve your written reports. Be sure the information is interesting to board members; don’t assume board members understand your message just because you do (invite them to call); highlight specific problems, issues and accomplishments; and give board members your personal schedule (some of them just need to know this).
  • Know board members as individuals. Communicate with them in between board meetings; take their advice; show them appreciation; recognize their accomplishments; and always, always treat them in a professional manner.
  • If you wish to make big changes at the organization, ensure your board has been introduced to the idea long before it will become reality. If you are planning on budget growth, for example, show the board estimated budget growth for the second and third years using a mock budget.
  • If a “sacred” program has become a drain on the budget, be sensitive to the politics at play. Systematically feed your board evidence of a need for change.
  • Never invite your board to meddle. Do not ask your board for approval of administrative decisions, for example. This is the same as inviting the board to hire your staff and allowing them to tell you what type of vehicle to buy. It is confusing communication to board members.
  • Build your board up in public. Do not take credit for successes; instead, credit the board. Let the board recognize you for the organization’s success. Give them proper credit and communicate your appreciation for their sound decisions that led to accomplishments.
  • Give each new board member a copy of your board-approved job description. It’s important to communicate what you do to new board members right from the start of the relationship.
  • Ask board members for the type of financial information they want you to provide. Let the board decide what it wants.
  • Understand why each of your individual board member serves. Is it because of social needs? A strong sense of community service? A desire to advance their career? Target your communications efforts toward these specific needs.
  • Upgrade your communication efforts as needed by:
    • Asking a board member about his personal interests.
    • Recognizing the accomplishments of the board member’s spouse or children.
    • Recognizing volunteer work at the organization.
    • Inviting board members to social occasions.

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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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