Direct contact between staff and board members?
Not all nonprofit organizations need or have paid staff.
But in those that do, a frequently thorny issue is that of direct contact between staff and board members.
Should board members have contact with staff independent of the executive director? For many executive directors, this issue raises blood pressure faster than almost any other.
Opinion is sharply divided about whether and how other staff should interact with board members. Executive directors often feel that independent board-staff contact undermines their authority and creates the potential for staff to give misleading and undermining information to the board. They can also worry that board members will give inappropriate information to staff, perhaps about a lawsuit settlement, a financial problem, or about what’s in the budget for staff raises (or cuts).
Board members want to respect the authority of their executive director, but they also often feel that it’s more efficient to meet separately with staff on some matters and that doing so spares the executive from too many meetings. Board members also value the independent viewpoint they develop when not all their information is filtered through the executive director. And when staff-board contact is prohibited, the board is often the last to know about serious problems such as financial troubles, lawsuits, and reputational issues.
It’s too easy to say that there ought to be enough confidence on all sides so that executives need not be anxious about what staff might say to board members on their own. That is certainly the case with many boards and execuives, but the question must still be answered even where that confidence doesn’t exist.
Staff members often attend board meetings to make presentations, to observe, or to respond to questions. For example, the board of an arts organization might ask for a presentation by the development director on the concept of audience development, or the board of a jobs program might ask the director to talk to the board about welfare-to-work initiatives. Some boards assign a board member to each program manager, although other boards feel that doing so can create “special interests” on the board.
Restricting contact between board and staff usually results in suspicion on the part of the board (that the executive is trying to keep information from the board) and resentment from the staff. The following guidelines can help clarify board-staff contact:
- There are no restrictions on board-staff contact, but the executive director must be informed about meetings. (Example: a voicemail message from the controller saying, “Hey, I just wanted you to know I’m meeting with the board treasurer next week to go over cash-flow projections. Let me know if there’s anything you want me to bring up.”)
- Because many meetings involve both staff and board — such as planning a fundraiser or advising finance staff — it would be a mistake to insist that the executive director be present at all such meetings. But both sides should keep these meetings within bounds; for example, in a meeting between a board member and the development director to discuss board member donations, it would be inappropriate for them to discuss whether the board or the executive director is acting responsibly in finance.
- Board members can request information and reports (such as another copy of the budget or last month’s client statistics report), but they must stop short of directing staff work by asking for reports that are not already prepared or otherwise asking staff to perform tasks. New reports and tasks can be requested of the executive director.
- Personnel grievances must go through the channels specified in the personnel policies. Board members should direct staff complaints to those channels.
- The organization should have a whistleblower policy to protect staff and to comply with federal law.
A channel for serious complaints about executive staff
In addition, there needs to be a way for staff to raise serious concerns about mismanagement or malfeasance at the executive level; in other words, to give staff a legitimate channel other than writing to the attorney general. Such complaints might be about sexual harassment by the executive director, improper use of organizational funds, or financial problems being hidden from the board.
One way to do this is to let staff know that the board is open to hearing complaints and concerns on serious matters, but that these must go to the board chair, not to any other board member. As representatives of the public, the board needs to know if staff have serious criticisms to raise; at the same time it’s only fair to the executive director and to the board chair for these to be handled in a defined way.
If board members — other than the chair — receive a complaint, they must direct the staffperson to the board chair (otherwise staff might start lobbying the board members they see as sympathetic). The board chair can choose to raise the concerns to the executive director or to bring them to the board for investigation. For example, if the board chair hears a complaint about sexual harassment or nepotism, he or she can convene a small investigatory group from the board that interviews staff on a confidential basis. Through these interviews the board group may decide that the charges were just the unjustified accusations of a disgruntled staff member, or they may decide that there is reason for a fuller, more formal investigation.
An important role of the board is to hold the organization accountable to its constituencies and the public. They can’t do that without information that comes to them directly without the mediating hand of the executive director. In addition, sometimes the damage that’s done by trying to prevent contact is more of a problem that what that contact could spark. And finally: often board-staff contact results in increased appreciation for the executive director!
See also in Blue Avocado:
- The Board’s Role in HR
- What are the Board’s Responsibilities with Volunteers?
- Should the Board Hold Executive Sessions?
Jan Masaoka is Editor in Chief of Blue Avocado. She was once worked for a nonprofit where staff were forbidden to talk to the board, and she still remembers how strongly it made the staff distrust the executive director. This article is adapted from a chapter in The Best of the Board Cafe, Second Edition.
Heath Ash says
So what if a volunteer staff member has a complaint about the executive director ? Nothing criminal, the volunteer feels marginalized and talked down to by the E D. Most conversations with the E D are passive aggressive on the E D side . How should this be handled ?
Michael Christopher says
I am a board member for a not for profit membership club and also have been named head of a Standing Committee. Is it normal, or acceptable to invite staff members to be part of the committee? The structure of this committee is such anything that comes from the committee must be presented to the board for approval or vote before it can be taken to the Executive Director or be put into any form of policy for the club.
Mia Evans says
It’s interesting to know that board members should respect the executive director’s decisions, but they also would need their own meetings regarding what they need to do. I guess businesses should really look for professionals to help them regarding getting the right staff for their board and other corporate duties. It will ensure that they will be doing their jobs well without any other issues.
Help!! I have a BIG question (well, at least from my perspective)! Our 501 (c) 3 historic house has been going through a period of transition, in which a new ED has come on board. I have (2) questions/concerns:
* as a result of the ‘new’ overhaul, a block of her friends has come onto the Board, including a married couple. i fear this block is becoming dominant, & wondering if this configuration is ethical?
(it appears that the Board is using a BUSINESS model rather than a 501 c 3 model for running the organization.)
* 2nd:: while i was awarded the title of Program Coordinator a year ago, i am not allowed to sit on either the Events or the Education Committees (i am creating the Education Program(s) for the organization). Moreover, my hours have been halved; i was told this was budgetary, but another person has been given the days i had cut. i have been w/ the organization a long time, & really love the interpretation & have–at least until recently–liked the BoD.
What are your thoughts on what has transpired? Can i speak w/ the President of the Board? Should i just leave?? Thanks for your insight.
Ana Lisa Yoder says
Thanks for this article! I understand the rationale for all complaints to go to the Chair of the Board so as not to create a situation where staff are lobbying various board members. This is great when you’ve got a great Board Chair but it is problematic when the Chair is too close to the ED and/or is conflict avoidant. When only one board member is the go-to, it is much easier for the Chair to ignore the complaint or share only with aligned board members who will agree with their perspective. I have seen nonprofits lose funding, reputation, and strong staff because senior staff have no avenue and/or procedure to address serious concerns. I think a better strategy would be for the board to have a personnel committee that deals with staff grievances related to the ED (among other duties) -preferably made up of at least 1-2 board members with at least some expertise in dealing with personnel issues (and the chair). As always, of course balance is important and there should be a clear articulation of what circumstances warrent this action. The whistleblower policy is not enough because it deals only with financial improprieties. I realize this is many years late but I’ve been really struggling with this question for a long time and feel like nonprofits desperately need to get on top of this–so many lost opportunities to quickly correct mistakes, causing unnecessary and profound damage to organizations’ work!
Board Stiff says
This is a great article even tho its a few years old. The comments and sentiments continue to get an amen around the world. I know of an Executive Director who forbid employees from attending Board Meetings. That’s being grieved, I’m sure the employees will triumph. If you are employed and you care about the clients or the community you serve, then it’s only natural that you want to be included in information that can stimulate ideas from every party connected to make the system work better. Corruption and disorganization increases with the No Contact/No Communication sharing rule. Failure at the top is eminent!
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I have been in a Director position for for a small non-profit for the past 12 years, directly under the current CEO. We have a personnel handbook, but there is no grievance committee of the Board and no guidelines for grievances at all. There is also no established pay scale. I have usually participated in human resources decisions with the CEO (hiring, firing, salaries). However, in the past year the CEO has decided to step down from that position, yet stay with the company – and has also decided that I will step down from my current administrative position and focus on one program. The company is looking for a new CEO who will assume my administrative responsibilities. The budget the current CEO has proposed for this transition includes drastic changes in current staff salaries. Some employees were given an increase of up to 50% FTE; others 9% or 20%. I am the only employee with a designated decrease (by 18%), which is about to happen. I have tried negotiating this with the current CEO who first told me to go to the Board, and then later said it was the CEO’s job to recommend salaries. For a long time I was just thinking about the inequity of my own salary. Now I am concerned with the lack of human resources policy or pay scale for the organization. Should I go to the Board chair? The entire Board? Wait for the new CEO to be hired and go to her/him?
should the ED of one organization be the chair of another board where the board member is the ED. Is this a conflict of interest when both sits on each other’s personnel committee’s?
The ED needs to know what everyone is doing and the only way to make sure is to direct all requests for action through the ED. There is no other way that is effective!
Agreed! Otherwise their becomes a mixed message of who’s in charge and who do the staff report to and if they don’t like what the ED says all of a sudden, there is an open door to the board. It can be suttle but damagining. I’ve seen it happen!
I, too, have seen many dysfunctional board/staff relationships. One organization I worked for the board had the prior Ex. Dir. escorted off the property by a law enforcement officer, while the staff were meeting in two different “camps” during happy hour plotting to take over the board. It took a year of team building with staff and board separately, and then I introduced a board/staff strategic planning retreat that lasted an entire day. From that point forward there was a much better/healthier relationship between the two. I have continued to use the organizational “development” day (inclusive of board members) in the organizations I lead.
That day can also include training, if necessary, on board and staff roles and how we can complement and help one another. Transparency is good. Yet negotiating relationships between your “bosses” and then working with them as “volunteers or committee members” that may (or may not) need some direction can also be a sticky wicket. That and helping staff navigate the same issues always takes considerable diplomacy.
What does it say about the nonprofit sector and our ability to problem solve effectively when the majority of individuals posting commetns list themselves as “Anonymous?”
I think that the answer to this question depends in part on the size of the NPO in question. With small or very small organizations, I believe that staff/Board contact should definitely be encouraged, although my experience tells me that it's healthiest to have someone who has a clear sense of the Board/staff divide on Board carefully monitoring what goes on during these contacts. As a former NPO E.D., I strongly feel that staff need to have free, unfettered access to Board members: Not only do they have the right to be able to provide uncensored feedback on the staff' leadership team, but they sometimes have great ideas that leadership may not have sufficiently considered, or even dismissed that will get a more open hearing at the Board level. Still, in my experience, it's not uncommon for some Board members to have a very unclear sense of the nature/importance of the Board/staff divide, and, in extreme cases, to reject this key concept altogether. This sort of distortion can, and often is, extremely destructive, and without strong corrective action, can to great harm. So I think there needs to be some sort of checks and balances in place that allow for unfettered staff access to Board members that will not allow that access to blur the staff/Board line in harmful ways.
It seems that clear role descriptions, codes of conduct and convention won’t help when Board positions are held by people not of the calibre, emotional intelligence or wisdom to appreciate the task they have. The Chair of the Board is the ultimate authority in an NFP ( by law in Australia anyway). The Board has the right to any information at any time, and if this is causing problems, it is symptomatic of far deeper issues.But this is best done via the Chair. The Chair’s role is a huge responsibility demanding independence, judgement and diligence. Unfortunately it is not always present, it seems.
But Directors and CEOs can and should work amicably and even where there is no particular personal “chemistry”, you can get the job done. Its not about making new best friends but about achieving the mission of the agency. Where a Board has been captured by the CEO and/or senior management. they are failing in their duties.I am always so disappointed to hear tales of personalities getting in the way of our important work in the NFP sector.
Several years ago I worked for a wonderful non-profit that unfortunately had an extremely firm restriction on staff/Board interaction. There was no explanation given to staff, and as far as I know the restriction came from the ED’s office. A pervasive “Us vs. Them” atmosphere existed within the organization, perpetuated by the top admin, and staff were resentful. We were very loyal to the organization; admin folks were very loyal to power and their jobs. The Board Chair and the ED were chummy, so objectivity was not the flavor of the day, and HR was not looking out for the “little people,” as it were. Things were happening at the top level that were not good for the organization, but no one dared talk to the ED or the Board. It was a mess and becoming messier and the Board (which was very large) was mostly oblivious to it all. It was so bad the Vice President, Development Director, and Program Coordinator even all quit at the same time, which unfortunately left the door open for further mismanagement.
I went to the Board treasurer because what I did for the organization was being severely impacted and we were losing out right and left financially. My move, of course, was one step away from unemployment, which came within three months. I was unceremoniously fired and given 30 minutes to leave. I loved that job, wanted to spend the rest of my life there, despite the goings on at the top. Over the next year or two, 22 people were dismissed, all good employees who loved their jobs. Lives were severely impacted and to this day we all have scar tissue from the experience.
My point – this is what can happen when the Board gives away total control to the ED, or wants contact with the staff to be channeled only through the ED.
Thanks. I also wanted to know how Board, ED and staff relations would work if a staff member is on the board? And what if the staff member that is on the board is on the personal committee, or any committee?
Forgot to ask the question: should the former staff member be able to communicate to the Board members that she left under duress? Or, do the Board members, which make up half the damn town, practically, get to think whatever they want, in perpetuity? I mean, clearly, the fantasy of a beneficent organization is very important to them.
Thank you for this article and the great suggested guidelines. I think one important option you may have missed is for the board to engage in a 360 degree evaluation of the ED annually. Depending on the size of the organization, all of the staff, or a selected few, have the ability to report confidentially to the board on the ED’s performance. I’ve done this as a staff person and as a board member at different organizations and I think it can be very useful for board members to better understand the ED’s overall performance. This process makes some ED’s uncomfortable, but if the board handles it well and allows for an honest discussion about the feedback, I think it can be really healthy for an organization.
Regarding the recommendation that staff should be able to go to the Board President with concerns, I assume that this would ONLY be after staff has followed grievance procedures — which should be included in the Personnel Policies. When a former staff person complained about me, the new Executive Director, to the Board President it was handled in such a way that I felt ambushed. This was a long-term employee who had been promised my job by the former ED and was being held accountable for her performance for the first time. She was also distraught about a recent death in her family. We both met with the President when she gave notice, and everything seemed cordial, but when I went into my regular meeting the next week with the President, he had called in the Personnel Chair and I was ‘confronted” with information about the angry call he had received. With 20/20 hindsight, I wish I had reminded the Pres that we have a grievance policy, which the employee chose not to take advantage of, and to let him know that I had actually approached this employee and expressed concern when I noticed a sudden change in her attitude. However I felt attacked and it was all I could do just to remember to breathe. This is too common — in fact this seems to be the pattern with my board. Board members are not trained in conflict management, and fail to ask the first question: ‘have you discussed this concern with the person involved, and if not, would you like me to facilitate a discussion?” If this does not resolve the problem or is not possible, then of course staff should be able to file a formal grievance. It is unfortunate when we don’t take advantage of complaints and use them as learning opportunities. I think, after listening unflinchingly to their complaints about me or the agency, that my staff has figured out that they can come to me with concerns, but I don’t enjoy the same luxury with the board.
The organization in question is over 35 years old and currently has an Interim ED who has been assessing the financial sustainability of the organization as we see a decrease in arts funding. Major cuts in expenses are being made (moving to a less-expensive office, Artistic Director & other staff taking pay cuts, etc) to help the organization through this rough patch. The board is looking at hiring a permanent ED at the first of the year, but the core staff sees that position as being the biggest financial drain on the organization and believes that the organization could run quite well without an ED position at all…. run, as the organization did for several years, with an Artistic Director and Managing Director.
The core stuff realizes they might not have the whole picture with regard to what the ED is actually doing, but is interested in speaking to the board chair directly about this to see if money could be saved and the organization run efficiently without that position… at least for a year, maybe more, until the org’s budget can really sustain that position.
Should the core staff go directly to the board chair with this or should they go through the Interim ED?
As a professional who has served as an Interim ED more than seven times I would hope that the Interim is not a candidate for the ED job and therefore would be completely objective about your proposal. I think it would be courteous to share your ideas with the Interim and invite him/her to join you in presenting to the board.
I appreciate the approach of the previous anonymous writer. Using the personnel committee for staff complaints, particularly about the ED, is what we do too. I have seen the potential for coercion where staff communicate directly to board members, when it comes to discussions between staff and the ED on compensation. In a case I’ve seen, a staff person who was unhappy with salary and negotiating with the ED for a raise, spoke with a board member about unhappiness with the ED. There was an implicit pressure on the ED to placate the unhappy staffer or to risk embroiling the board in personnel matters and or having a staff person undermining them to boardmembers.
Clearly this is a multivariate issue and there is no single approach or model.
I am suspect of any ED or board chair who would deny or restrict communication between staff and board members. A healthy organization encourages open, honest communication among interested parties. Such an organization builds trust among its people. I do believe that lines of authority should be recognized and protocol followed to minimize potentially damaging disregard for one another. However, every member of an organization should be made to feel like a valued contributor in word and deed. After all, in America, freedom of speech is still one of our most treasured rights. – DW
Staff and board should definitely have access to each other. However, board members need to be be aware that a friendship with a staff person can develop which will totally subvert the authority of the executive director. When an ED sees some of his staff regularly going to lunch with board members or to parties at board members houses without inviting the ED, then this is really a red flag. This happened at the nonprofit where I am ED. When the inevitable employees issues arose, I immediately involved the personnel committee which has final juridiction in employee matters and grievances. This is clearly laid out in the bylaws and the personnel practices. Try as they might, the board members who were the friends of the employees involved could not overturn the decisions of the personnel committee, which really stood firm since several members were former board chairs themselves. However, it really hurt the organization and caused untold hard feelings. I really don’t think that the board members involved understood how they were being used by the staff members, nor how much damage they were doing.
Our personnel practices allow staff to grieve an issue up to the personnel committee of the board. So the board becomes aware of any issues that may be hidden and the staff has an opportunity to have their say to the board. However, this is a formal process that is very transparent. There are no anonymous notes passed from staff members to board members. Everything is in the light of day. This protects everyone: the staff person, the ED and the organization. I can’t begin to tell you how much of a difference this has made. It actually strengthens the authority of the ED.
Would you be willing to share your formal process (obv w/o names of NPO), I would love to implement a successful process for staff to board communications. Thank you!
Having been both an executive director and a staff member involved in fundraising activities, I understand both the need for a plan to be in place for board/staff contact (board members don’t need ten different staff members talking to them about the same topic and that would be poor internal management) as well as the need for staff interaction with board members, especially as that interaction relates to fundraising. Without board members using their contacts and interacting with staff who are trying to open doors to new donors where board members may be of help, the board members’ potential is not used to the fullest and staff become frustrated in not being able to move forward with prospective donors when they see a fantastic fit and a potential avenue to an introduction to the organization.
The fundraising aspect was the one item I felt was missing from the article since fundraising is a key reason for staff to be involved with board members. I am now at an organization where I was told that I would be mentored to replace the current vice president; however, a few months into the job and after having made contacts with board members — as directed by the vp — the vp has told me that I am not to talk to any board members and that I am also not to talk to the CEO of our organization. I have a number of years of fundraising experience and have a number of years’ experience in coordinating board members’ relational contacts with donors and staff for a large campaign, so at this point I feel that my skills and experience are under utilized and that my hands are tied as far as making any inroads into new funds for the organization.
Meanwhile, my vp refuses to try to engage board members with fundraising herself, so no one is performing this critical task in helping the board members be fully engaged.
For decades, as a board member, I have asked ED’s to schedule informal personal meetings for myself with key and influential staff people once or twice a year. I do not take formal notes at the meeting to create an informal meeting atmosphere. I then provide a verbal summary to the ED. All involved in 15 different organizations report the process has worked well to let the staff know that the board has a sincere interest in what it is accomplishing.The ED receives an outside perspective on the overall internal “health” of the organization, which can be helpful in many ways.
BTW: Sarbanes-Oxley legislation suggests that directors develop closer communications relationships with key operating personnel. Will this become the norm in the nonprofit sector?
I think there are appropiate times when staff should have access to the board. As the financial director of a non-profit I think if I need to speak to the treasurer, or fundraising chair, or chair themself I should be able to do so without having my ED present unless it is warranted. When I am presenting financial information I prefer it to come from my mouth instead of through another so I know my information is being conveyed accurately. It makes me uncomfortable when an ED wants me to have no individual contact with the board.
To me, this is a no brainer and I’m glad you’re writting about it Jan. The staff must have some kind of access to the board. What the contact looks like is really up to the board to define. I have often recommended that boards desiginate a “staff point person” to handle these inquiries. It’s up to the board…not the ED…to communicate with staff if they feel that the staff is being disrespectful or inappropriate in their communications with the board.
I can’t tell you how many EDs I have interacted with who attempt to block staff and volunteer access to the board….but I can tell you there are reasons why that access is being blocked 99.9% of the time (and they’re not good reasons). Also, I almost never get a good answer when I have asked: “What’s wrong with the staff having access to the board?” Having served as a director myself for several years, I welcome direct communications with any staff, member, or volunteer.
All good thoughts. As a Board President of a 5 employee non-profit, for me the key is not to give any instructions to staff, only to the ED. The ED needs to know what everyone is doing and the only way to make sure is to direct all requests for action through the ED.
I am an Executive Officer (ED) and it would be a relief if my Board President thought as you do!
My Board president not only has argued passionately for the Board to be able to speak to any staff member, at any time, but during our most recent Board meeting also told me I had no right to discuss potential policies being considered by the Board until AFTER the Board had decided to go ahead with the policies.
So now I have been given the message I am expected draft policies without consultation!
The president has forged a strong friendship with a staff member, due to their working together on “projects”, and the staff member is frequently singled out for effusive praise by the president, while other staff, are rarely acknowledged.
Am I looking for another job? Heck yes!
The issue of trustee/staff relations is a very sensitive and delicate topic. In three different instances, I found myself working in schools that were self-destructing. The heads of these schools were able to convince the board that they had matters under control. Unfortunately, matters were NOT under control, and the staff knew it. But for some reason they remained loyal to the head and not the school; in other words, they supported the heads’ assertions and claims, reassuring trustees that all was well when in truth, it was not – far from it.
I have always felt that I work for the school, not the board or the head. They may be the placeholders, but it is the school that endures. Given that sense of institutional loyalty, I answered honestly when quizzed by trustees about the state of the school – in these instances, sharp-eyed trustees were suspicious of the heads’ version of reality – esp. since the numbers (enrollment, for instance) were at odds with the heads’ reports.
The trustees knew me and knew my work history and were thankful for my honesty and directness. Their fears confirmed, they put into motion plans to remove both heads. One was fired; one left just before he was to be fired. In both cases, the schools were effectively “saved.”
But the central issue here is institutional loyalty, the obligation that an employee has to the life of the institution, not the heads or other staff or even trustees. Never one to sacrifice the whole for one of its parts, I feel that it is incumbent on any staff member to answer any question honestly – and with the facts to support that answer. Hearsay or idle speculation has no place in these serious conversations. It is up to the staff member to know the difference and respond accordingly.
In the end the survival and success of the institution out weigh all other concerns and considerations.
There is another angle to board/staff contact that should be considered but is not covered in this piece. I am a staff member and we had an issue a while back where Board members were sending invitations via Facebook to staff to “friend” them on Facebook. I think it is probably fairly common at organizations where Board and staff work together on a cause they both feel passionately about to feel a bond with each other and may want to connect with each other on social networks. This issue was actually brought to our management’s attention by a staff member who had received friend requests from Board members. While the staff member liked the Board members, she pointed out that there was an inherent power differential between her and a Board member and expressed concern that declining a friend request could reflect negatively on her as a staff person. As soon as it was brought to the Board member’s attention, they understood that they had put the staff member in an awkward position. Ultimately the Board adopted a social networking policy that requests that both staff *and* Board refrain from inviting one another to connect to personal accounts on social networks such as Facebook. Our organization maintains a Facebook account, and Board and staff are able to interact there if wanted.
This was an important issue for me as I really try to keep my Facebook account limited to sharing information with people who I know as part of my private life.
Excellent point. I'm wondering whether board members should be asked specifically not to ask staff to friend them on Facebook, or connect with them on Linked In or any of the other ones. Should they de-friend someone if that person takes a job with the organization where they are on the board?
Almost all social network sites were launched in the first decade of the 21st century. They are still novel, and evolving rapidly. Moreover most users are still quite naïve about consequences of the casual posts they write. Most nonprofit organizations have given very little thought to managing their presence on a social network. They sometimes casually invite volunteers and staff to post and tweet about activities through their social networks, without providing any guidelines. We should be very concerned when volunteers and staff rush to post unauthorized material, often poorly written and containing misleading information as it causes more harm than good. A few large corporations and government agencies have started to block personal social networking from being used by their employees for work related activities. In my training courses and consultation assignments for nonprofits I recommend that they develop guidelines and policies to manage organizational social networking, and clearly prohibit the co-mingling of personal social networking by volunteers and staff with the organization’s Online Social Network (OSN) activity. Besides the establishment of rules on what can and cannot be done, I recommend that the board orientation handbook and human resources policies be updated to incorporate policies governing the use of social networking for official business. Finally, every organization has policies and protocols to prevent unauthorized persons from issuing Press Releases or giving media interviews. The same practice should be applied to the use of social media.
Good article. I have one question related to staffing and the Board's role. You mention the Board approving the "salary schedule" but do not mention the Board's role in approving the actual position descriptions. It seems to me that this is part of the role of the Board to approve the actual position titles and descriptions. Not the day to day work but the general work. Please respond as our ED thinks that the Board should only approve the salary and not the position descriptions. Board Member
I’m with your ED on this one. If he or she is responsible to acheive yearly organizational objectives, your ED must have the authority to establish the positions that allow that to happen. The board should approve the salary and benefit line items in the budget and leave position creation to the ED. Otherwise how can they be accountable for achievement?
This is a timely article, and an issue that requires a board to take the very important step of working with the Executive Director/CEO to develop specific guidelines on how staff/volunteers reach out to the board in the case of a serious complaint. That said, an organization can have these specific guidelines in place, and an anonymous letter writer on staff can create havoc in an organization. Even specific guidelines on anonymous letters won’t preclude a whistle blower from taking the very wrong avenue of going directly to a sympathetic board member with an anonymous letter of complaint. And when you then have a misguided (although sympathetic) board member who protects that anonymity, then you really have a problem on your hands that sucks resources from the real day to day job of an organization.
So, thank you for reiterating the correct way to approach problems within an organization that involve staff and board. I hope both staff and board members read your newsletter. Knowledge is power.
Very enlightening. I am particularly interested in the third bullet point: “Board members can request information and reports (such as another copy of the budget or last month’s client statistics report), but they must stop short of directing staff work by asking for reports that are not already prepared or otherwise asking staff to perform tasks. New reports and tasks can be requested of the executive director.” At an organization I volunteer for, a board member—the chair—who is also a member of the fundraising committee. While the board member is acting as a member of the committee, the authority possessed by being the board chair is not left at the door when the fundraising committee meets. As a member of the committee, this board member frequently requests additional work from the development staff, especially the director of development, and dominates the meetings. The director of development is not allowed to direct very little and serves as a support staff to this board member. Some other volunteers and I have been trying to find a way to support the director of development and ask the board member to step off of the committee.
I’ve seen boards effectively take down CEOs, overstepping their duties and getting involved in staff firings/hiring and not wanting an employee to be fired, taking the employees side no matter what, even if this employee or employees bring harm to their organizations–call it loyalty to the employee, and being closed minded, having direct conflicts of interest with an employee being on the boards and board members being related to employees in the organizations, which effectively the board members in turn relate the meetings minutes to their relatives (run and tell dad or mom, son or daughter) at the companies, so nothing is confidential or private. Employees having affairs within companies and standing up for said employees “under any conditions” if one of the employees violates company policy, having that emotional connection and again loyalty, and turns it around on the CEOs and the boards. The boards listening to long term employees and giving them a benefit of a doubt over new employees, when in actually it is the long term employees being involved, again being closed minded, because an employee has been there a long time and again getting involved with the staff. Boards hijacked by employees coming in to talk under a different directive and then unloading on the boards about practices within the organizations instead of going through proper channels. Also, no respect for authority and jealousy of positions above them, more so the men, since these have been female dominated fields I have worked in, and they manipulate and plot and plan to overthrow upper management to gain more power or influence over the organizations because the cannot stand another man or men being in authority over them. Total dysfunctional. It throws whole organizations into chaos which is what they want. They want the control from within and they succeed and employees are too intimidated to stand up against them, supervisors, etc. for fear of losing their jobs, call it self preservation. And as one poster commented here, his board is half the entire town. I’ve seen bullying directed by the HR, groups ganging up on employees pressuring them to quit, again all about power. You want companies to fail when it reaches this level of inside fighting. This is entirely my point of view and my perspective of what I have experienced in working at various companies over the years and this type of situation could be anywhere in the world. I can only imagine what happens at other organizations.
Thanks and good food for thought
I recently became ED of a non-profit which very nearly self-destructed due to poor relationships between the previous ED, staff and board.
We are currently in the process of ensuring there is a robust performance review for the ED (my request) and pleased blue avocado is planning article about same.
I encourage the board to have in camera sessions – they need to be a team and I think
discussions/decisions about the organisation without my perpetual involvement is a good thing.
A serious issue in the previous strife within the organisation was disgruntled staff complaining to members and board members about their unhappiness with the previous ED. The response of the current board has been to adopt policy that all staff relations are through myself to the board. Issue with ED must be dealt with between staff and ED and failing that to government labour board. Seems to me that we are seriously missing a step and it is extreme circumstance to go outside the organisation to resolve issues.
I know the board are responding to the previous set of circumstances, but I think for the sake of all concerned, we need to put in place a measure that allows staff to approach chair with clearly articulated issues and a means for dealing with such. I’b interested in hearing about in-house greivence processes that are effective, clean, fair. Thanks
C. H. says
I also am interested in best practices for in-house grievance processes that are effective, clean, and fair. I am on the staff of a languishing non-profit with an ED is a weak and inept leader, and a covert manipulator whose only reason for being there is to ensure she has insurance (which I have heard her say verbatim). I catch her in lies that are subtle and difficult to pin down. She refuses to look at herself as having responsibility for any of her shortcomings or the failings of our organization, and she’s quick to pass blame to the board, a disinterested community, and a myriad of other excuses. She will say one thing to staff to manipulate us into doing parts of her job, then take credit for it in front of the board and others when we aren’t present, and sometimes when we are. I’m becoming the public face of the organization, and that is not in my job description. Another staff member and I have shared some of this with a board member, but there are no provisions at all in our bylaws for dealing with complaints of staff about the ED. We are nearing our wits end!