Many of my client conversations of late have been focused on Leadership…specifically, the relationship between paid leadership (staff) and volunteer leadership (Board). Whether your organization is small, just starting out or large and well-established, it is important to periodically affirm leadership roles and responsibilities. The delineation is pretty simple: The Board is responsible for hiring, evaluating and, if necessary, firing the Executive Director. They are also responsible for fiduciary oversight. The Executive Director is responsible for everything else, which basically means overseeing the day-to-day operations of the organization.
So why does it get so complicated? Often times – whether it is because the organization is just starting out, there is a change in leadership or even when there is a very strong, collaborative relationship – the roles can become blurred. Let’s take a closer look at each of these examples.
If the organization is new or just starting out, those in leadership positions may be required to wear a variety of “hats”. The Executive Director may also be recruiting Board members, overseeing the finances, establishing programs, etc. While this structure is typical for an emerging organization, it is important to have a clear understanding of leadership roles from the outset. Drafting job descriptions for key staff positions (Executive Director, Program Director, CFO, Director of Development) and Board members – even if those roles aren’t filled for some time – will provide clarity and serve as an objective reminder down the road.
Change in Leadership
When an Executive Director leaves the organization – particularly when it is unexpected – a Board member may volunteer to (or have to) step in an provide day-to-day oversight and sense of stability to staff members and donors alike. While this may be appropriate, and can work for a short period, it is not an ideal arrangement for a longer period of time. Here are a few reasons why it is not an ideal long-term solution:
1) This reporting structure can be awkward or uncomfortable for staff members
2) The Board member serving in this role may not be well-versed or equipped to handle the significant responsibilities of the Executive Director
3) Continuous transitions in leadership may be confusing for donors and other supporters
If the organization plans to launch an immediate search to replace the Executive Director, this solution is acceptable; however, if the organization needs some time to get organized, confirm direction, etc., it may be more beneficial to hire an interim Executive Director to fill this role.
Strong, Collaborative Relationship
In organizations where the Board and staff have worked together for many years, the result is typically a strong, collaborative partnership. There is mutual trust, and often a “rhythm” in the collaboration among the leadership. However, it is important to remember that this balance can easily shift. For example, if the Board members start getting “in the weeds” of the day-to-day programming direction and decisions, or if they begin to tell staff members directly what to do or how to do something, the established trust can easily be broken.
So, whether your organization is new or old, big or small and whether you are new to your role or have been in it for some time, it is healthy to review roles and responsibilities with the other leadership team members periodically. Formalizing this process (perhaps as a part of your annual goal-setting conversation) will help keep your organization humming and provide an objective way to get things back on track if the relationship starts to shift.