Stack of balanced rocks

A True Collaboration

Although it makes total sense for an all hands on deck when it comes to the operations of a nonprofit, there is one key relationship that will either help your boat sail or sink: the board chair and executive director.

This team sets the tone at the organization in a number of ways:

  • It sets an example of how all relationships in the agency function.
  • It serves as an example of leadership.
  • It demonstrates a commitment to healthy communications.

Since many organizations are often struggling with limited resources, the ‘lanes of responsibilities’ can get a bit blurry.  In the case of the board chair and executive director relationship, it is critical that areas of responsibilities be clearly defined:

  • The board chair oversees the organization’s governance.
  • The executive director oversees the organization’s operations.
  • The board chair confirms that the work of staff remains aligned with the mission.
  • The executive director manages the work of the staff to support the mission.
  • The board chair manages the board.
  • The executive director manages the staff.

A key sign of dysfunction in an organization is when the board meddles in the work of the executive director.  This doesn’t keep operations running smoothly – quite the contrary. As Joan Garry shares in her article, it all starts with acknowledging the value of a healthy working relationship and there are some indicators to help you get on the proper track:

  • Recognizing that both of you are passionate about the mission.
  • The board chair understands the work of the board and pursues training for the board in order to do the best work possible.
  • Both the board chair and executive director work together on preparing the board meeting agenda, as well as, the work of the executive director.

She also provides a great example of an agenda in the article.

When this critical team creates a strong working relationship, the success becomes apparent. It leads to partnering on critical fundraising activities like meeting with major donors and foundations.  It also conveys a message of unity and dedication to the work of your nonprofit.  It sets a healthy tone about the culture of your organization so staff, volunteers, program participants, donors, and community partners can feel confident that the best interest of the agency is there because it is demonstrated by leadership.


Posted in Operations.