The Difference Between Non-profit Board & Staff Roles | Aprio
The difference between non-profit board & staff roles| Aprio

The roles of staff vs the board in a non-profit organization

When volunteer directors of smaller non-profits want to get involved in the association, they may also volunteer to serve on the board. And so, what happens is the board of the non-profit quickly becomes a “working board.” Very quickly, the President, VP, Chair, or Vice-Chair could wind up doing all the work as both staff and board members. 

This may be fine for small organizations without a lot to do, but as your organization grows, you’ll quickly find that a working board is a problem (they’re too busy!), and you’ll need to hire paid staff as the scope of work broadens. 

But no matter what your board-staff situation is, the best practice in North America is to appoint a CEO or Executive Director as your first staff to remain consistent with the corporate board culture. 

As your organization grows, you’ll notice that staff roles and responsibilities differ significantly from volunteer director roles and responsibilities. This article examines the board vs. staff roles non-profit organizations. 

The role of the board in a non-profit

In any non-profit organization, the board is ultimately responsible for all aspects of the organization’s activities. 

These five actions fulfill the board’s leadership commitments:

  1. Approval of the organizational strategy
  2. Developing the organization’s policies
  3. Stewardship of financial and legal resources
  4. Effectiveness monitoring and evaluation
  5. Evaluating and hiring a CEO (staff) 

In addition to establishing governance policies and strategic planning, the Board is responsible for recruiting, hiring, and firing employees and managing employee relations. The Executive Director (ED)/CEO is the only employee on the board of directors. This is where the division of duties between board members and staff comes into play.

See related: What is the board structure for a nonprofit organization?

The role of staff in a non-profit

Upon hiring the first chief executive, the board delegates all daily management duties to that person.

Keeping a close eye on the organization’s issues and activities, the chief executive maintains regular contacts with the board and particularly the chair. Without the chief staff person’s constant input, the board would struggle to make well-rounded decisions. Over time, the staff will assist the chief executive in efficiently implementing the board’s directives.

The staff supports all committees and task forces of the board. The staff members must comply with board policies and directives to the best of their ability, within the parameters of the strategic plan.

The difference between non-profit board & staff roles| Aprio

Other key non-profit organization roles

Exploring the CEO role:

An organization’s CEO is responsible for overseeing the implementation of its board’s policies and managing the organization effectively and efficiently per the board’s policies and budget. 

Furthermore, they ensure that the board receives accurate, concise, and timely information. It is up to the CEO to keep the board updated on the organization’s ongoings at an operational level—the staff below the CEO level report to the CEO, not the board.

Exploring the Board Chair role:

To fulfill the board’s responsibilities and achieve the organization’s mission, the chair’s responsibility is to ensure that board meetings are organized and conducted to facilitate a productive and inclusive discussion and efficient decision-making in the organization’s best interests.

Why a partnership between the board and staff is important

As an ongoing board responsibility, effective board development requires board involvement. Additionally, the staff typically plays an important role, as long as they are empowered – yet there is often debate over who, when, and how staff becomes involved with the board.

But there isn’t always a clear distinction between non-profit staff management and board governance. Monitoring plays a prominent role in the board’s responsibilities. With the help of other employees, the chief executive is responsible for “making things happen.” 

Both sides have needs for each other’s support, but not to the point of micromanagement. Building this type of partnership requires knowing when to act alone, when to ask for assistance, and how to trust the other to do the same.

Communicating, trusting, and respecting each other effectively requires the following approaches:

  • Regular check-ins between board meetings to ensure operations are running smoothly on both sides 
  • Commitment to their respective goals in the best interests of the organization 
  • Providing feedback in a timely and constructive manner to facilitate the necessary change required for the growth of the organization 

Ensure that your senior staff and board members are familiar with one another. You will foster a servant-leader approach to boardroom conversations and help your organization evolve into a high-performance team.

See related: The roles of staff vs the board in a non-profit organization

How to share responsibilities between the board and the staff

The executive team, administrative support team, and program staff can significantly influence the experience of both board members and themselves. The relationship between the board of directors and staff can either be extremely rewarding or extremely frustrating. Boards and staff must work as a team for an organization to succeed.

Here are three ways that staff and board members can effectively collaborate:

  1. Planning – Agendas need to reflect board priorities, including strategic goals, governance issues, financial health, and committee recommendations (not reports). The chair plays a critical role in meeting agendas strategically and redirecting operational ideas to the appropriate committees and executive directors.
  2. Company vision – Establish a strong working relationship between the company’s senior staff and experienced board members to ensure the company’s vision is maintained—schedule regular meetings between the chair and the ED to discuss the board and the organization’s dynamics. Regular calls and lunches or coffee meetings can go a long way toward keeping lines of communication open and building trust.
  3. The organization’s well-being – To have an effective board-staff relationship, you will need to dedicate time and effort to educate yourself about serving or working with an effective board. This is a very effective way to share best practices and prevent scope creep by board members. Articles or white papers on board-staff topics could be provided for a board discussion. 

Admin staff also play an essential role in ensuring the board’s success since they are necessary to its functioning. In so many ways, the chief executive is shaped by the professionals of administrative governance.

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If your non-profit organization is looking for a better way to facilitate staff and board member interaction, board management software may be the solution you’re looking for. 

Easily manage relationships, access, reports, and feedback all from one place. Staff and board members can collaborate seamlessly, securely, and efficiently with collaboration workflows. The board and staff can make better decisions using curated data and intelligence. Contact us today to get started and learn how you can enhance your director and executive workflows and communication.

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