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Who’s Running the Show?

One of the threads that runs through nonprofit success is the leadership tension between the executive director and the board of directors. Nonprofit advisers like me have our radar up and working when we first meet nonprofit leaders: how is the fit between the staff leader and the volunteer leader? Are they clear on their roles? Is there some tension there?
It’s unusual to find everything hunky-dory. And if it seems “copacetic,” that’s good! I like “copacetic”! But it’s weird if it’s like that all the time.
It’s also important to recognize that some creative or leadership tension is a good thing. A little push back-and-forth can help push accomplishments up a notch. Not a bad thing.
Most folks get the notion that in the world of nonprofit management, we look to staff for management. Staff operate the deal. They get a budget and accompanying work plan approved by the board, and check in on progress as agreed.
The board is responsible for fiduciary oversight. They set the strategic direction. They need to know that what’s happening aligns with the direction they agreed to. And the board relies on staff to keep their eyes on the horizon for changes in trends, and to bring information like this back so they know when the marketplace their nonprofit is working in is undergoing change.
No relationship is perfect.
But all parties need to start with the premise that we need to work from a “give-and-take” position if we’re going to make our nonprofit work well. Yes, we have a fine mission. Yes, our primary customers are pleased with the service we’re providing. But.
Why are a couple of staff members carping to board members about the executive?
Why is the executive doing so much talking at board meetings?
Why do some board members stay away from our meetings?
Nonprofit board leaders and staff leaders committed to a process of “continuous improvement” (remember that old TQM term?) can find ways to overcome bumps in the road that need to be addressed.
Nonprofit boards committed to their periodic self-assessment and training give themselves the best chance to work effectively on their roles.
Nonprofit CEO’s who get a sound performance review each year based on agreed-to objective criteria know what’s expected…what they need to deliver to keep the board on board.
People of good faith committed to advancing the nonprofit mission, and working collaboratively to get the job done, have the best chance of success and feeling good about the relationships within the organization.
There are sound practices that can make this work well.
If the caution light comes on, and folks worry over “who’s running the show?” it’s time to address the concerns and get roles and responsibilities clarified so toes don’t get stepped on. Or crushed. Or steam-rollered.
If It’s The Results can help you to get at clarity on matters such as these, and get back to a collaborative atmosphere, let us know at or 781-334-4915.

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