Exchange Matters / April 27, 2018

Tips on Managing Relations Between Board and Staff Members

Note: At the 2018 Global Ties U.S. National Meeting, Jill van Nortwick delivered a session on “The Impact of Shared Values on Your Board and Organization.” This article presents some of the content from the session.

Interview with Jill van Nortwick, Vice President, Global Ties ABQ Board of Directors, by Michelle Utter, Communications, Global Ties U.S.

Ever wanted to know how best to manage the relationship between your board of directors and staff? It can be frustrating on both sides as each has its own ideas of tackling the organization’s mission. Fortunately, it is possible to overcome this frustration and work toward a stronger, more vibrant team.

Here are my tips for successfully managing the relationship between the board and staff:

Tip #1: Define your “how”

In general, nonprofits are operated by boards (which determine plans and policies) and staff, (which carry out and implement such plans and policies). As a board member, you are entrusted to steer the organization through oversight and governance, ensuring that the organization has adequate resources to advance its mission.

Boards define their “how” as operational, strategic, or resource-driven (either through money and/or business and philanthropic relationships). Your board may be a lot of one, a little of each, or transitioning from one to another. By defining your “how,” you openly agree on your role and establish clear boundaries.


Tip #2: Create annual goals with the Executive Director

If your board is clearly focused on big picture issues with an eye toward the future, the staff should focus on the day-to-day operations. Clearly defining goals and outcomes for the quarter or for the year should give that board member the confidence that things are running smoothly.


Tip #3: Align your directors’ skills with their purpose

As organizations mature, board members may sometimes find that their directors no longer fit with the organization’s mission. Older boards whose members are used to “doing it all” may find it hard not to stick their fingers into the pie once a competent staff is on board.

Establish a competency matrix that identifies the skills, areas of expertise, characteristics, and demographics that matches them with the strategic plan. Using the board’s purpose and the strategic plan to map out the composition your board will need several years to meet its goals.

Getting to the root of why a director feels compelled to micromanage is vital. It could be that their personal purpose of serving is misaligned with the needs of the organization. Maybe they don’t feel confident that there are systems in place to ensure proper operational oversight. Or, there may be a mismatch of which skills and competencies are required.

If you’ve tried these three steps with no luck, it’s probably time to tackle the issue one-on-one. You need board members who are the right fit and, as a leader, you have to do the uncomfortable work of dealing with the ones that aren’t.

For more advice from Jill, visit her blog and newsletter at