For a not-for-profit organization, confusion regarding the roles of the Board of Directors and the Executive Director can be painful. Both sides can feel they are acting in good faith. And both sides can feel victimized. Ultimately, the question is, “Whose NFP is this, anyway?”
The Board of Directors is responsible for setting the direction of the organization. The Executive Director holds responsibility for ongoing decisions and operations. While this may seem straightforward, there are significant opportunities for misunderstanding, manipulation and failure.
Overzealous board members can extend their oversight role into inquiring into, questioning and dictating operations. They may have professional expertise, and feel it is their responsibility to take control. Staff members discover they can circumvent managers by appealing directly to board members. To the overactive board, it is THEIR organization , and the Executive Director and staff are cogs to do their bidding.
For the over-reaching Executive Director, the Board is a nuisance which must be suffered. Board meetings are a time to dazzle with smoke and mirrors, doing whatever it takes to get them to adjourn without interfering in operations. To the Executive, Director, it is HIS/HER organization, and the board is simply a superfluous legality.
Role conflicts weaken the organization. Clients and staff suffer when those at the top are in discord. Action must be taken to resolve the disconnection. Ambiguities need to be clarified, and boundaries and expectations set and honored.
- From the beginning, roles need to be clearly defined, and carefully delineated. Candidates for the Executive Director and board positions must understand their responsibilities and their limitations.
- Overzealous board members should be brought to the attention of, and redirected by the board chairman.
- The Executive Director must be responsive and responsible to the board. If this is not forthcoming, the board needs to seek a more appropriate candidate.
The purpose of the organization is to serve the client base. The Board of Directors and the Executive Director each have a critical role to play. Working in concert, great things are possible; working in conflict leads to stress, dysfunction and frustration.