April 23, 2014


Connecting critical for board and staff

Jessica Katz Jameson

Jessica Katz Jameson

It is common wisdom that CEOs manage and boards govern, which often suggests a "hands-off" policy when it comes to relations between the board and staff.

While the setting of clear boundaries is considered a best practice, effective governance requires that board members have a complete picture of the organization, and that includes understanding of the whole staff.

Likewise, staff members will be more satisfied with their jobs and employers when leaders take their needs and concerns into consideration in strategic planning and decision-making.

Organizational effectiveness therefore requires connections between board and staff.

Based on two years of observing board meetings, interviewing a variety of board and staff members, and engaging in many personal conversations at nonprofit conferences, I have learned there is not a one-size-fits-all answer to the question of how to create appropriate board-staff relationships.

Nonetheless, these experiences have revealed several practices that have the potential to foster good relations while maintaining appropriate boundaries:

* Invite new board members to meet the staff during their orientation.

Introducing prospective or new board members to the staff will help staff members to feel included in the process and provide a foundation for future interactions.

This will also help the new board member make more immediate connection to the organization.

* Invite staff members to share their story at a board meeting.

Unlike presenting a formal report, which can be dry and impersonal, staff members can share a recent success, a challenge they are experiencing, or an idea they have.

This allows board and staff to brainstorm and problem-solve together when appropriate.

* Make sure board and staff members are working together at special events or programs.

Many nonprofits hold fundraising events or special programs during the year that provide a natural opportunity for staff and board members to spend time together.

This provides time for informal interaction that can strengthen bonds and improve everyone's sense of identification with and connection to the organization.

Jessica Katz Jameson is an associate professor in the department of communication, and chair of the Academic Council for the Institute for Nonprofits, at North Carolina State University in Raleigh.


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