by Marie Palacios
This past month I have had the opportunity to play an active role in a board/staff development series in my local community. The workshops offered me a unique opportunity to network, participate, and facilitate conversations. Although I eat, live, and breathe “nonprofit” development on a daily basis, it was a wonderful opportunity to gain a fresh perspective from colleagues in my local circle.
During one of the sessions, we began to dialogue about the dynamics between Executive Directors (ED) and Board Chairs. This one relationship has the power to make or break many organizations.
As an executive director, I can sympathize with my fellow “staffers” out there who express frustration and confusion about their board chairs. Many complain that their board chair is “too active” and insists on micromanaging projects and overstepping in staff duties even if they lack the expertise to do so. Others are exasperated with board chairs who are “inactive” and merely show up to facilitate a board meeting despite being disconnected from the staff and mission in between meetings.
When you consider the fact that staff members are paid, and board members are volunteers, many find that the ED and board chair relationship is quite complex.
How do we create a healthy balance?
While today’s blog won’t solve all of your relationship woes, I would like to challenge all the Executive Directors out there to take the first step and invite your board chair out for a cup of hot coffee, tea, or Mandy’s favorite, peppermint hot chocolate!
The objective of the conversation is NOT to resolve all of your organization’s current problems. Focus on getting to know each other and learning how the two of you can establish new communication norms that will benefit the organization moving forward.
Consider allowing the following prompts to guide your conversation:
1. Thank you for agreeing to spend some time with me today. I’m excited to have the opportunity to connect and get to know you a little better outside of board meetings! How are you doing and what’s new in your world?
2. I appreciate the fact that you have volunteered your time to serve on our board, and have been so gracious and willing to accept a leadership role. Thank you! Could you share what inspired you to accept a leadership role and what I can do to help you accomplish your goals for the organization during your time as board chair?
3. We both know managing an organization is a full-time job! During the week staff engages in a variety of programs, partnership conversations, and fundraising efforts. How often would you like me to communicate with you outside of board meetings/reports to share what is happening? (What is the best way to share information: cc you on emails, call you, text, etc.?)
4. Our organization has a strategic plan, and it’s so important that the staff work closely with the board in order to achieve our goals. Do you have any recommendations for ways that the staff can better engage the board in particular areas?
5. As the ED and board chair, we work closely to shape our board meeting agendas and set the tone for conversations. How can we best partner to make sure board members feel engaged and excited at meetings?
It’s all too easy to play the “blame game” when an organization has a dysfunctional staff/board relationship, but honest conversations and mutual respect are a great way to build new bridges and create the unity your organization deserves.