Organizational Conflict: Blurring the lines between Board Chair & Executive Director

Photo by Shyald

I once worked with a nonprofit organization that had some conflict between the Board Chair and Executive Director (ED). The main issue dealt with who should be doing what (defining roles), and founders syndrome. Never heard of founder’s syndrome? Click here and here.

The problem was that the organization had been an all-volunteer organization with a very active board for decades. The organization had grown, and had hired an Executive Director. Unfortunately, the organization didn’t really plan well for defining roles and transitioning from all-volunteer to having paid staff. The result was tension and conflict between the Board Chair and Executive Director about who has the authority to be doing what. Some of the specific questions that came up were:

  • Who should be the media spokesperson?

In most cases, it should always be the Executive Director. Now, that doesn’t mean the Board Chair can’t be trained on how to respond to things, but if there is one person invited to interview about the organization, that person should be the Executive Director. I view the Executive Director’s role as being the face of the organization.

  • Who should be in charge of the finances/who should have the final decision making power?

When you have just one paid staff member, deciding who should be in charge of finances isn’t as cut and dry as with large organizations. Still, the Executive Director should have the final say. For example, with the nonprofit I was working with, there was an independent contractor that was well-liked by the board. The contractor was let go by the ED, and the contractor held the organization’s property hostage demanding a severance check – crazy huh? Well, the ED said not only would they not give the contractor a severance check, but they wouldn’t give them their final check until the property was returned (makes sense right?). Well, the Board Chair overrode the ED’s decision and gave the contractor their check – before they had returned the property – without telling the ED. This is a great example of what Board Chairs should not do. The Board does have the ultimate fiscal responsibility – but the staff is responsible for the day to day finances and related decisions.

  • Who puts together the agenda for board meetings?

Technically, it is the Board Chair’s job to put together an agenda. Although, most organizations rely on their staff to do the agenda. This was totally depends on the organization, and the board.

  • If the Executive Director is salaried, should they have to keep track of their time and tasks in a timesheet (actually write 4-5pm: called donors) for every hour of every week?

No! Please, please don’t make your staff do this. This organization did, and it created a lot of resentment between the Board Chair and the Executive Director. Please trust your staff to get their work done. In my opinion, I think all organizations should move closer towards a R.O.W.E. sort of work place.

These are just a few of the many issues that came up with this organization’s transition. If you have your own questions, please post them in comments and I will do my best to answer them. Or if you organization does these things differently, please share!


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