The board of directors and the executive director have a close connection. The executive director is the board’s sole employee, so they tend to communicate a lot. It can be tricky to manage this relationship properly, because the board consists of volunteers who may not fully understand the ins and outs of this professional relationship.
A structured process is necessary to clarify the roles and responsibilities between the board and the executive director. The board manages the executive director. They must know about employment law, human rights, worker’s compensation, taxes, HR practices, and much more. The executive director is accountable to the board, but has authority to make independent choices. They must know how to create a budget, fundraise, write reports, and work directly with stakeholders.
The board’s governance function is to enforce a system where behaviours and resources are controlled and well-coordinated. For instance, they ensure there are adequate policies to guide people’s decision-making or that money is well-spent.
The board also focuses on the mission and long-term goals of the organization. They do a lot of planning and delegate many of the action items to the executive director. The executive director is responsible for the implementation of board motions. Operational tasks are the focus of the executive director.
Board members aren’t to meddle in the day-to-day decisions, because the executive director will focus on those responsibilities. The executive director will report back to the board with status updates and detailed information that could influence the board’s future decision making. The executive director often works closely with the chairperson, but the board always makes decisions as one unit.
Effective communication between the board and executive director is essential. Each party should strive for a healthy working relationship that has clear boundaries. Having a framework to describe the board’s functions and the executive director’s roles can help each party to better understand how they can support and empower one another. Neither party should try to control the actions of the other. When the distinction of board and management responsibilities is understood, then this working relationship becomes a symbiotic one.