When I work with nonprofit boards and in the training I do in this area, I always think of the parallels between board work, or volunteerism generally, and the HR best practices and procedures for hiring, onboarding and supporting a new employee. By using this lens we would be better at the job of supporting board of directors work and the accompanying relationships.

This month we have Denise Lloyd, of Engaged. Engaged is a Victoria based HR firm that I have worked with on a few projects and have grown to respect their approach and expertise. I asked Denise if she could contribute something about the relationship between the Board/Board Chair and the Executive Director.

Here’s what Denise has for us:

‘At Engaged we work with several dozen non-profit organizations, and we have seen the devastating impact when an Executive Director/Board Chair relationship doesn’t work well. Over the years, we have also seen great Executive Director/Board Chair partnerships that work beautifully together; the kind that we wish for all non-profit organizations. There is no doubt in our minds that a strong relationship between an Executive Director and the Chair of the Board of Directors is vital for effective organizational governance and management.

There are several key characteristics that contribute to an effective Executive Director/Board Chair relationship, setting everyone up for success:

Defined Roles and Responsibilities: Clearly defined and documented roles and responsibilities prevents overlap and ensures accountability. Understanding and respecting the boundaries between governance (board’s role) and management (executive’s role) is crucial.

Clear Communication: Regular updates and open dialogue sets both parties up for success. An agreed to regular cadence that provides timely updates and encourages dialogue between the Executive Director and the Chair ensures that the right information is shared at the right time, preventing misunderstandings.

Mutual Respect and Trust: Both parties respecting each other’s roles and responsibilities, recognizing their respective areas of authority is key. Trust is essential, built through honesty, reliability, and consistent actions, fosters a true partnership.

Shared Vision and Goals: Alignment on the organization’s mission, vision, and strategic goals is essential. Collaborative planning ensures both the Board and the Executive Director move in the same direction, creating a unified approach to achieving objectives.

Support and Collaboration: The role of the Chair is to advocate for necessary resources and provide guidance to the Executive Director. The role of the Executive Director is to ensure that the Board, through their relationship with the Board Chair, is equipped to fulfill their role successfully. A collaborative environment allows both to address challenges and seize opportunities together, enhancing leadership effectiveness.

Mutual Performance Evaluation and Feedback: Regular performance reviews for the Executive Director by the Board provides constructive feedback and supports professional growth. A mechanism for the Executive Director to give feedback to the Board also fosters mutual understanding and cooperation.

Transparency and Accountability: High transparency in operations, decision-making, and reporting builds trust. Both the Executive Director and the Chair should hold each other accountable for actions and decisions, aligning with the organization’s best interests.

Conflict Resolution: Proactively addressing conflicts or disagreements is vital. Both parties should seek solutions that serve the organization’s best interest. Third-party mediation can help resolve conflicts and maintain a positive relationship.

Professional Development: Ongoing professional development for both the Executive Director and the Chair enhances their leadership and governance skills. Regular board member training ensures they understand their roles and supports their ability to work effectively with the Executive Director.

Strategic Partnership:  Engaging in strategic thinking and planning for long-term sustainability is a priority. Presenting a unified front to stakeholders demonstrates strong leadership and cohesion, driving the organization towards its mission and goals effectively.

Focusing on these components creates a powerful and effective partnership between an Executive Director and the Chair of the Board, ensuring the organization’s success!’

There you have it. I think Denise has some great ideas that we can all use to help assure a successful board of directors and the relationship with the executive director. Add to this a strong onboarding program for new members and it’s a sure winner.

Feel free to reach out to Denise if you have any questions at denise@engagedhr.com or visit their website at Engaged.

We’ll be back in September with the monthly blog and a schedule of workshops.

Have a great summer.


Join our Newsletter