Board, Staff and Reporting Relationships

Home / Non-profit Boards / Board, Staff and Reporting Relationships

N.B.  I wrote this as a memo to a friend who was considering joining a non-profit board for her first time.

 

Summary

In organizations with a governing board, the chain of command looks like this:

  1. The board chair manages the work of the board and the actions of its members.
  2. The board oversees the executive director.
  3. The executive director hires, supervises, supports and replaces staff.

 

Breaches in the chain of command create serious problems.

 

Governance Functions

 

In the Board resides the legal authority for the corporation:

  • Ensure value to society.
    • Relevant mission.
    • Targeted plan.
  • Ensure adequate resources to execute the plan.
  • Evaluate progress toward the plan and mission.
  • Ensure Fiduciary responsibility.
  • Safeguard the organization’s reputation.
  • Perpetuate the board.
  • Hire, support, supervise and replace the executive director.

 

 

With a governing board (especially one recently transitioning from a working board), it’s vital to have clear lines of authority and channels of communication.

 

  1. The board chair manages the work of the board and the actions of its members. The board chair especially needs to extract work from committee chairs.
  2. The board oversees the executive director.
  3. The executive director hires, supervises, supports and replaces staff.

 

Sometimes I think of this as an hourglass, in which the board sits atop the organization, the staff the base of the hourglass and the board chair and executive director make magic at the waist.

 

Board members who have requests of or ideas for staff members should direct those communications to the executive director because:

  • He supervises and assigns work to those staff members.
  • He balances their workloads.
  • Staff get confused and demoralized when the receive work from many different people.
  • The executive director gets demoralized and undercut when board members circumvent his authority.

 

 

Board members participating committees may interact frequently and directly with staff members in that committee under a board-approved plan.  For example, the Capital Campaign Committee chair and the development officer work as partners with the committee to develop, implement, evaluate and revise the Capital Campaign Plan.  They present this plan to the board for adoption, and once gaining adoption, their roles change.

 

In the implementation phase the committee members are not acting as governing board members, but rather as committee volunteers.  They, as volunteers, report to the committee chair, who might be a staff member (e.g. development director).  That distinction of roles (governor vs. at large volunteer) helps keep the disparate roles clear, maintains channels of communication and lines of authority.

 

Committees that have written and board-approved charters often experience less confusion and more clarity of their role.  Please see the accompanying attachment for an example.

 

In its governing role, the board may and should request of the executive director sufficient information to assess progress and fulfill their other governance functions.

 

 

Related Posts

Leave a Comment