Sometimes the nonprofit executive must be a mind reader.
That’s because nonprofit board members can be really hard to figure out. Sometimes they want complete authority over decisions. And other times they look at you as if to say, “Why didn’t you just go ahead and do this? It’s your responsibility!” That’s where the talent for mind reading becomes a career necessity.
Yes, ideally the board makes policy decisions and stays out of your management decisions. But rarely are things so cut and dried. That’s because there are three real-world problems that can make your decision-making dicey:
- Many board members don’t know their proper responsibilities, even after they have been oriented and trained. So they don’t know which decisions are the board’s and which belong to you.
- There are plenty of gray areas where responsibility is not clear.
- A board has the power to make any decision it wants to — right or wrong.
What the nonprofit needs is a clear-cut list of responsibilities for both board members and the administrator. That way, board members will know their own responsibilities — and respect yours. Who does exactly what isn’t really the key issue here. What’s vital is that everyone on the board and administrator team discusses and then agrees who will be responsible for what — and sticks to the agreement.
If you and your board make the time to develop a decision-making chart, you should see a positive effect on board meetings. Once the board has specified who will make decisions, meetings should become shorter and smoother because everything has been sorted out in advance.
As a team, the board and administrator should decide who is responsible for making each decision. Be sure to tell your board where you think you should be responsible, but be willing to live with their consensus — even if you don’t agree.
Note: I’ve listed a few responsibilities below to help you and your board get started. But be sure to customize this list to your own organization and the types of decisions you typically face.
When developing your own list, you will have a good opportunity to discuss board responsibilities. Give your board some guidelines, such as the following:
- The board handles the “what” — such as our organization will provide a new program. The executive handles how the policy will be implemented — such as who will staff the new service, where and when.
- The board makes decisions that set the direction for the entire organization. The executive makes decisions that affect individuals.
- Law often dictates who must make a decision.
Responsibility Chart for the Administrator and Board
Label each item with one of the following:
A = Administrator has complete authority to make the decision.
I = Administrator has authority to act and then inform the board.
P = Administrator must seek prior approval from the board to act.
B = Board must make the decision.
- Write a grant proposal.
- Submit a grant to a funding source.
- Discipline an employee who comes to work intoxicated.
- Change board-meeting times or frequencies.
- Purchase new computers with budgeted funds.
- Set minimum salary for new staff.
- Determine rules for staff dress.
- Terminate a supervisor’s contract.
- Accept audit of the organization’s finances.
- Appoint people to an advisory committee to advise the administrator about community needs.