Non-Profit Governance: The Work of the Board, part 1


Dani Robbins is the Founder & Principal Strategist at Non Profit Evolution located in Columbus, Ohio. I’ve invited my good friend and fellow non-profit consultant to the first Wednesday of each month about board development related topics. Dani also recently co-authored a book titled “Innovative Leadership Workbook for Nonprofit Executives” that you can find on Amazon.com. 

Governance: The Work of the Board, part 1

Hiring, Supporting and Evaluating the Executive

By Dani Robbins

board of directors3

As mentioned in Board Basics and reposted on this very siteBoards are made up of appointed community leaders who are collectively responsible for governing an organization.” That includes:

  • Setting the Mission, Vision and Strategic Plan,
  • Hiring, Supporting and Evaluating the Executive Director,
  • Acting as the Fiduciary Responsible Agent,
  • Setting Policy, and
  • Raising Money.

As you know, one of my goals is to rectify the common practice in the field of people telling non-profit executives and boards how things should be without any instruction as to what that actually means or how to accomplish it.

Since I wrote a recent post on Strategic Planning, I’m going to circle back to that one and start with Hiring, Supporting and Evaluating the Executive Director.

What that means is:

It is the Board’s role to hire the Executive Director, also called CEO. Prior to hiring, interviewing or even posting the job, it is imperative the Board discus what they want and need in an Executive Director. This conversation cannot be farmed out to a committee primarily consisting of non board members, or to a consultant or hiring firm. That will only get you what they want and think you need – not what you want and actually need.

What skill sets and experience do you need in a leader?

Growing, turning around or maintaining an organization require very different skill sets. Which trait do you want your new leader to have? Does your leader need to be a subject matter expert? Does she need to be local? Does he need to be a fund raiser, an operations person or both?

I recommend a search, REGARDLESS OF . . .

  • if there is a good internal person,
  • if someone on the board wants the job, or
  • if there is an obvious heir apparent.

Do a search, let everyone apply and see who best matches your needs. For more information on conducting a search, please click here.

exec searchOnce your hire an Executive Director, s/he needs to be supported. Supporting an Executive Director is where the rubber meets the road.

I once had a colleague tell her board to “Support her or fire her, but to choose.”  While I was shocked, I was also in agreement. The job of the Executive Director is very difficult and energy spent on worrying is not spent on moving the organization forward. (To the Executive Director’s out there: Worrying about keeping your job precludes you from doing your job. You have to do what you believe is best, based on your experience, information and training, within the boundaries of your role and the law. We all know that any day could be the day you quit or get fired. That can’t stop you from leading.)

Communication is key: the Board needs to know (and approve of) what the Executive Director is doing and the Executive Director needs to know (and be willing to do) what the Board wants.

It is the Board Chair’s job to be the direct supervisor of the Executive Director and the entire Board’s job is to support him/her, set goals and hold her accountable to those goals. This means the Board has to let the Executive Director fulfill the bounds of his/her role. There should also be a strategic plan that is being implemented, board approved policies that are being followed and an annual evaluation process for the Executive Director (and the rest of the staff).

The vast majority of Executive Directors rarely get evaluated, and when they do it’s often because they asked for an evaluation. (To the Board Presidents out there: Executive Directors, just like Board members and most other people, when left to their own devices will do that they think is right. What they think is right will not necessarily be aligned with what the Board wants, especially if what the Board wants has not been discussed or communicated. It also may not be aligned with anything anyone else is doing. See the Strategic Plan link above to create alignment.)

Executive Directors should be given expectations and goals (just like all other staff) and should be evaluated against those expectations and goals every year. There should be a staff (including executive) compensation plan that has a range for salaries for each position and reflect comparable positions in your community; raises should be given within the confines of that plan, or the plan should be revised. (More on that in the Setting Policies blog to come in the next few days.)

Hiring, Supporting and Evaluating the Executive Director has to happen – in full- for your executive to be an effective leader, for your board to fulfill its responsibilities and for your organization to fulfill its mission.

When an Executive Director is hired right, supported appropriately and evaluated effectively there’s no end to the impact it can make on an organization and a community.

What’s been your experience? As always, I welcome your insight and experience.
dani sig

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About DonorDreams

Erik got his start working in the non-profit field immediately upon graduation with his masters degree in 1994. His non-profit management and fundraising experience numbers nearly 20 years. His teachable point of view around resource development is influenced by the work of Penelope Burk and those professionals subscribing to a "donor centered" paradigm. Donors have dreams and it is our responsibility to be dream-makers because donors are not ATMs.

Posted on August 6, 2013, in Board development, Board governance, leadership, nonprofit, volunteers and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

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