In every non-profit, the issue of role definition looms large. There seems to be an inevitable tension between the board president and the executive director over who runs the show. But asking the question this broadly really mis-defines the problem. The better, more productive question is “Who is in charge of what?”
Here’s the often-cited rule of thumb: The board, and by extension the president, sets and oversees policy; the staff, through the executive director, is in charge of management. Sounds simple. But like everything else in the non-profit world, the reality is far more complex and nuanced.
Here is my list of fundamental responsibilities for both halves of the team.
A board president oversees and leads the board, which has responsibility for
1. The financial health and security of the organization
2. The compliance of the organization with all relevant laws and regulation
3. The adoption and monitoring of a strategic plan for the organization
4. General oversight of the organization’s programs and activities
5. Promoting and representing the organization in the community
6. Hiring, evaluating and setting the compensation for the executive director.
An executive director has responsibility for
1. The development, management and evaluation of programs and activities
2. The hiring, evaluation and compensation-setting of all other staff, either directly or through responsible managers
3. Compliance with policies set by the board
4. Serving as the link between the board and the rest of the organization
5. Serving as the organization’s chief spokesperson
6. Running the day-to-day life, including the finances, of the organization.
Clear? I hope not! Why? Because the lines separating all these responsibilities are shaded rather than sharp. And if you are aware of the shading, and act with sensitivity to it, you will have a much better chance for success.
So, how do you establish and maintain clarity? The key is to recognize that the board president-executive director relationship is a partnership, not a contest for power. It is built on a shared sense of mission, open communication and personal and professional respect.
Helping organizations build strong board-staff teams is part of what we do at WEI. For help with your organization’s challenges, contact us here.