There are two major errors that can negatively affect the board/executive director partnership.
Error 1 - The executive director is regarded as the "professional" who knows all, and the board, therefore, acts as a rubber stamp to all of his/her recommendations.
Error 2 - The executive director is regarded as the "servant" of the board, and the board micro manages his/her work and staff.
Both of these errors can cause problems. Boards that blindly accept everything the executive director suggests can get into serious trouble because the board members are legally responsible for the organization, and they must not ignore that responsibility. However, boards that try to micro manage get in the way of the executive director/staff relationship; take time that could be spent more productively; and generally impede the progress of the organization. The board's job is to evaluate the executive director in terms of stated desired outcomes (job description) but they do not supervise the executive director and staff on a day-by-day basis.
The relationship between board and executive director is much like the relationship in our national government between the executive branch and the legislative branch. Each acts as a check and balance on the other and, ideally, should be in partnership for the fulfillment of their important mission.
The following job description for an executive director should be helpful in defining the functions of this important position.
Note: Frequently the question is raised, "should the executive director have a vote on a nonprofit board?" My answer to that is "no" because I believe it is a conflict of interest for someone receiving a salary from the nonprofit to have a vote. Executive directors have the opportunity to be heard during the discussion process before a vote is taken. That is appropriate!
A RESOURCE YOU'LL LIKE: The wonderful world of the web: http://www.mnpl.org/trainings offers a training module on "Improving Nonprofit Boards" from the Executive Master of Not-For-Profit Leadership program at Seattle University. The material is excellent and would be a good workshop for your board of directors. This effort was supported by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation.
Jeanne H. Bradner is an author, consultant, trainer and speaker on volunteerism, board development and leadership. She is the author of three publications, Passionate Volunteerism, The Board Member's Guide, A Beneficial Bestiary and Leading Volunteers for Results: Building Communities Today. She served as director of the Illinois Governor's Office of Voluntary Action, Midwest Regional Director of ACTION, and Executive Director of the Illinois Commission on Community Service. She is the volunteer program specialist for Illinois' Harper College Volunteer Management curriculum. Send your comments and questions to Jeannebrad@aol.com.