Unlike business partnerships, which are usually grounded in equal shares or investments, the partnership of a nonprofit board and the executive is much more ambiguous. Although one is a governing entity (the board) and the other is a management entity, the two functions often overlap, blurring the distinction between the two.
Boards, in their zeal to perform their oversight duties, may unintentionally (or intentionally) try to direct program activities, the function of management. Miscommunication between the two entities can cause friction within the organization, which ultimately can hurt programs and derail the mission of the organization. Maintaining compatibility and cooperation is essential for operations to run smoothly and for an organization to achieve its mission.
If you feel like this article introduction needs to be read at the beginning of each of your board meetings to keep everyone on task, perhaps you should learn more about The Nonprofit Leadership Team: Building the Board-Executive Director Partnership by Fisher Howe. Even high functioning boards will find Howe’s strategies for improving the relationship of board chair, board and executive director insightful.
Fisher Howe is focused on the working partnership between the three (chair, board, and ED) and how they can join forces to lead an effective and healthy organization. Howe covers every aspect of leading an organization as a team, from what the board expects of the executive, and vice versa, to how the Leadership Team deals with the specific responsibilities and challenges inherent in the functions of both governance and management.
This book explores the nature of leadership in nonprofit organizations and looks at how leadership can be most effective in serving an organization. Author Howe begins with three underlying propositions:
The board “owns” the organization; it is accountable for everything the organization does. That is their governance and fiduciary role. The board leads.
The strength of the board—and, therefore, the strength of the organization as a whole—is directly related to the effectiveness of the chair as a leader.
The executive is the manager in charge of the staff and responsible for carrying out the organization’s programs. The executive also leads.
Although nonprofits differ in size and purpose, some fundamental principles of leadership can be found in all of them. This book looks at those principles as they relate to three dimensions of leadership: the personal qualities of leadership, the partnership roles of the board, including its chair, and the executive, including the staff, in fulfilling the different functions of governance and management; and the special challenges that face the Leadership Team.
The book is divided into three parts. Part One looks at the qualities of shared leadership in terms of what the board expects of the executive; what the executive expects of the board and individual board members; and the personal dynamics among them.
Part Two identifies six functions of governance and six functions of management, and looks at the partnership roles of board and executive in each of eight shared functions of management and governance (hiring and evaluating the executive; the mission, vision and strategic planning; program direction, oversight and support; financial management and governance; marketing, promotion and public relations; fundraising; enhancing board effectiveness; and administrative activities).
Finally, Part Three looks at the challenges that confront the Leadership Team, including how to tackle evaluation of organizational performance; how to deal effectively with today’s information and communication technologies; and the impact of new governance and management forms.