“How can a manager be most effective ( and stay employed) when working with a volunteer board? How should my time and energy be split between the operations of the business and advising the board members?”
A: An excellent question since volunteer boards, by their very nature, have a tendency to manage the operations of the organization. Strategic boards set policy whereas working boards do some of the work that could also be assigned to staff. Especially when the volunteer board is a “working board,” there is not always a clear delineation of responsibilities between a board and staff.
A study of executive directors conducted by Bell, Moyers & Wolfred in 2006 in the United States found that the executive director’s relationship with the board strongly affects the rate of turnover among executive directors. The study also found that most executive directors do not see their relationship with their board as an effective strategic partnership.”
It is important that boards develop a constructive, collaborative relationship with staff if they want to achieve the goals which inspired them to volunteer in the first place. For a volunteer board to operate effectively, there are three critical components:
- There must be respect for the distinctions of roles of the chair, board members and executive director.
- Communication must be forthright, candid and transparent.
- There must be a desire to work together for the good of their particular community.
One of the first and most important items for the board to address is developing an effective strategic plan. Not one that is full of motherhood, platitudes and dilbertisms. This means starting with the basic values ( three or four at the most), developing a long- term ( one sentence) vision, a strategic mission, then articulate the three or four critical objectives for the upcoming year.
The vision paints the picture of the dream, why the organization was formed in the first place. The mission articulates the basic reason the organization exists — why the staff come to work every day and board members continue to volunteer.
The three to four critical objectives declare the top priorities for the organization to grow and succeed. From these objectives come the policies and procedures that will be the compass to keep everyone focused and on track. Once this strategic plan is done, everyone should be clear on their roles:
The role of the board is to provide leadership, create the vision, establish priorities and participate in dispute resolution. The board is ultimately responsible for decision- making, monitoring best process and remaining accessible for information and advice. The board is responsible for setting policies, monitoring practices and should be the face to the membership and the auditor.
The role of the executive director is to provide professional, knowledgeable, objective advice and counsel. The executive is the team leader for all the staff and is the final authority for all staff decisions. The executive serves as a conduit and mediator for relations between the staff and the Board.
Once the board has made its decision ( after consultation with appropriate staff) it is turned over to the executive who is responsible for how it gets implemented. The executive is also a partnership builder and maintains constructive relationships with other organizations
My question for executive directors this week: “Does your organization have an up- to- date, articulate and effective strategic plan in which all stakeholders are clear on their roles within the organization?”