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From Board & Administrator Vol 26, Issue 10
7/2/2015 12:00 AM
If CEO Keith Vire (Springdale, Ark.) received negative anonymous comments on his written performance evaluation, his first step would be to contact the board chair for a discussion.

“I wouldn’t ask for the identity of the negative commenter, but I would want to know if this was a single negative comment, or if the board member in question has an across-the-board negative opinion of my work,” Vire said.

If CEO Keith Vire (Springdale, Ark.) received negative anonymous comments on his written performance evaluation, his first step would be to contact the board chair for a discussion.

“I wouldn’t ask for the identity of the negative commenter, but I would want to know if this was a single negative comment, or if the board member in question has an across-the-board negative opinion of my work,” Vire said.

Vire’s next step would be to ask the committee in charge of his appraisal, or the full board, depending on the evaluation process, to discuss their feedback on the executive’s performance with him in an open forum.

“I think it’s better to get things like that out there, and in my experience when that happens the board member is put on the spot, even if not by name,” Vire said. “Good things can come from this.”

Vire said it’s important for the administrator to keep an open mind about negative performance feedback. “It’s possible the negative comments are warranted and I need to take notice,” he said. “It’s also possible in an open forum that other board members will counter the negativity,” Vire said.

More evaluation strategies:

• Understand that negative comments can reflect a board member’s lack of understanding of an issue or policy.

• Understand that comments that you may take personally were not intended to be personal.

• Ask for clarification of what the board member is saying in an anonymous comment. “Often, if I say, ‘I understand this comment to mean xyz, does the board wish to expand on this or have me address the comment?’ I receive a clarification,” Executive Director Sonia Handforth-Kome (Unalaska, Alaska.) said. This can lead to a board member owning up and clarifying her written comment, she said.

• Create conversation. “And even if an individual board member doesn’t admit to making a comment, the full board and I can still have a productive conversation,” Handforth-Kome said. ¦

Board and Staff Contact
6/29/2015 12:00 AM

In this Board & Administrator feature from Editor Jeff Stratton, learn why a long-tenured executive was abruptly fired and how you can prevent the same from happening to you.

“You’re fired.”

When the executive director does not keep a tight handle on board-staff interaction, the board can panic and strike hard and fast like a snake.

A long-time administrator from New Jersey saw his career end abruptly once the board and staff started worrying about the nonprofit’s finances together.

“I was fired without warning last March after 10 years of loyal service because of financial stress freaking out our employees,” the New Jersey executive said. “Employees went behind my back to the board.”

The executive director ended up taking the blame for the recession’s impact on the organization. This is the type of board behavior commonly seen in immature start-up organizations. But rarely do you see board/staff contact like this with an experienced administrator with 10 years on the job.

That is why it remains vital that an executive director teach his or her employees a chain of command with lines of authority. Employees should understand that only the administrator reports to the full board and that the board hired you to manage the nonprofit’s operations. That means the administrator manages finances. It also means the administrator has total responsibility for hiring, firing, supervising, evaluating and disciplining employees.

These concepts are important enough to your success at the organization that they should be part of the new employee orientation program. Employees must understand who directs them, who is accountable to whom and who has responsibility for what from the start of their employment.

This is your best bet for attacking the employee-end-run-to-the-board issue. The alternative is employees who believe they can approach the board about any issue, and that undermines your authority. The executive director will become a figurehead with no real authority to manage personnel.

The board-staff contact problem also needs to be attacked from the board angle. The best way to manage this is for the board to approve a policy that clarifies the board’s relationship to staff.

Here is policy language I have recommended over the years to make the board-staff relationship clear to both staff and board members:

    “The Executive Director is solely responsible and accountable for the conduct and performance of the staff. Accordingly:

    • “We will not interfere with the Executive Director’s handling of operational or personnel matters.
    • “We will not give instructions to persons who report directly or indirectly to the Executive Director.
    • “We will not evaluate, either formally or informally, any staff member other than the Executive Director.
    • “We will not meet with, either formally or informally, any staff member for discussions about the Executive Director’s performance or his management of the organization.”


Jeff Stratton, Editor


Board Meetings
6/26/2015 12:00 AM

Executive Director Walter Kellogg (Rock Hills, S.C.) uses a permanent “continuing board education” item on his board meeting agenda to keep responsibilities fresh in the minds of board members.

Executive Director Walter Kellogg (Rock Hills, S.C.) has a terrific idea to teach board members the separation of responsibilities between the board and its CEO.

“We have a permanent agenda item for every board meeting called ‘continuing board education,’” Kellogg said. “During this time on the agenda, we discuss the delineation of roles.”

Kellogg said that during the continuing board education item he and the board frequently discuss material from Board & Administrator.

Other tips for keeping roles straight with your board:

  • Make the role of the board vs. the role of the administrator clear during new-member orientation.
  • Use a veteran board member to keep roles clear. “We have a very experienced board member who, while she is not our designated parliamentarian, will say during meetings, ‘Point of order. That’s administrative in nature,’” Kellogg said. She does this when the lines start to blur, which is rare, he said.
3/27/2015 12:00 AM

This chart from Board & Administrator Editor Jeff Stratton provides guidance on roles for the board and staff.

1/9/2015 12:00 AM

This board evaluation instrument from Board & Administrator Editor Jeff Stratton is a tool the CEO can use to see how well the board is set up to govern effectively.

12/19/2014 12:00 AM

Executive Director Susan Levy assists her board committee chairs by helping them develop a Chart of Work outlining the committee’s responsibilities for the year.


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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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