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The Nonprofit Blog

Who's the boss?

A burning question that Executive Directors often ask me is:  "Am I the boss or is our Board President the boss?"

The answers to this and other questions relating to board governance are pretty easy. I review them, step by step, in frequent workshops and trainings. I often blog about several of these topics.  Here's a recent example on Greater Giving. The challenge, however, is putting these sensibilities into practice. Evolution at the nonprofit board level can only happen with strong board leadership. 

For the purpose of this leadership discussion, I will focus on the Board President. The fact that (s)he has had many years serving on your board or other boards, or that (s)he is in a position of responsibility at work, does not necessarily mean (s)he will lead your board where it needs to go. 

Strong board leaders spend an enormous amount of time and effort understanding the existing mission and prevailing strategic plan at your organization. The Board President should have total confidence in the Executive Director (ED) and view their mutual relationship as a fifty-fifty partnership. By modeling a respectful relationship with the ED, the President will set the tone for all of the board members. The ED and the entire organization benefit tremendously when this mutual trust exists.

Roles and responsibilities and the intricacies of the board/staff relationship should be clearly defined and agreed upon. Communication agreements as fundamental as specification of the ED's and the Board's annual goals are critical at the start of each year. And, although the ED is in charge of all elements of the program and the Board President oversees the planning and policies for the organization, it's important that each respects and invites the other's input in important considerations. Does it take a perfect world to achieve this partnership? Not really. Simply put, if you are considering taking an ED role and you question the potential for a partnership with the Board President, don't take the job. And, vice versa.

As to the original question - Who's the boss? The ED is the boss of the office and all matters pertaining to the program and services delivered by the organization. The Board President is the boss of long range planning, policy, compliance with legal requirements and ensuring that the organization has the resources it needs to carry out the mission. It's kind of like asking who is the boss at home - the husband or the wife? 

 

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