Balancing the ED - Board Relationship | Funding for Good

by Marie Palacios

One of the greatest challenges for an Executive Director can come with learning to balance a productive yet respectful relationship with the board of directors.

It’s tough to remember that the group of “bosses” around the table are volunteers of the organization yet also maintain the highest position of authority. Rather than dismiss the board of directors as bystanders who “just show up for meetings” once a month it’s important to get to the “WHY” of the matter.

Why does each person take time out of their busy schedules to attend monthly board meetings, review organizational documents, and/or roll up their sleeves to help out with fundraising events?

Once an ED can answer the question “Why” it is time to move on to the “how” portion of the board engagement.

How does the board need to receive information about the organization, recommendations from the ED, or invitations to engage?

Quick Tips for the ED: 

  1. Remember that your board of directors are VOLUNTEERS, who care about the organization but may not have all the skill sets to do everything right all the time.
  2. Invite board members to a coffee or one-on one gathering to pick their brain to learn WHY they said yes to joining the board.
  3. Build a relationship with board members that extends beyond the monthly agenda!
  4. Consider developing a “Board Engagement Form” that allows board members to indicate their personal strengths and areas they wish to volunteer. Be sure to ask what contact methods they prefer and their availability.
  5. First engage board members in the areas they feel most confident and then offer opportunity for growth and development so they can assume new roles/responsibilities.
  6. Always acknowledge the board’s efforts and provide encouragement and resources so they can continue to develop
  7. Include a 2-3 minute engagement activity at the beginning of each board meeting. For example, the board/staff could be instructed to move around the room and ask/answer the question “What skills/perspective do I believe I bring to this board” or perhaps “What I most would like to see our organization achieve this year is ____.” After everyone takes their seats, request that a few board members share the responses they received.

Added Value Exercise:  Allow a few board members/ staff to complete the following statement: “This board/staff could help equip me in my position by _________. If the board prefers more anonymous input, consider asking board members/staff to write their response to the prompt on and index card and pull from those cards at each board meeting. Those index cards serve as the board’s acknowledgement for areas that need development! Take time to listen and then address those requests.

Remember, building relationships is the key to success.  Choose methods that are accessible to you now and get started today! Best of luck as you help your organization grow for good!