There can be a lot of tension between the executive director/CEO and the board. I’ve seen it at many nonprofits. The problem is often that they’re trying to do each other’s jobs. The board is supposed to govern, and the executive director is supposed to manage. But when both are trying to govern or both are trying to manage, toes get stepped on.
What’s the difference between governance and management? Governance, according to BusinessDictionary.com, is making policies, monitoring their implementation, and acting as a balance of power to management. Management enacts those policies, oversees the operations of the nonprofit, and acts as a balance of power to governance.
The trouble is that the responsibilities of the executive director, board chair, and board members usually aren’t well defined. So, each are trying to fulfill responsibilities that aren’t theirs. There is a classic article, Governance is Governance by Ken Dayton, which discusses this. In the article, Dayton clearly describes the difference between governance and management. He also outlines the duties of each role: the executive director, the board chair, and the board members. I recommend your executive director and board read it.
Once they’ve read it, here’s what you do at the next board meeting: Split the board into three subgroups and assign each subgroup a topic: board chair, board, and executive director. Give a flip chart page to each group. Ask each group to summarize, in their own words, the job description for their assigned position on the flipchart. Next, have them report to the rest of the board. Finally, ask the board to discuss
- How the organization’s governance is the same or different from what Dayton is recommending, and
- What changes, if any, the board wants to make from its current practices.
A lot of conflict will be solved when you define the roles of each member. Once people know what they’re supposed to do, they’ll be less likely to do each other’s jobs. Then your leadership can operate like a well-oiled machine.
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