photo by Leif Norman

The Board’s Employee

Most not-for-profit Boards have only one employee – the head staff person. The rest of the organization’s employees do not report to the Board and the Board has no role in managing or directing any other employees.

This head staff person can have various titles: CEO, Executive Director, Executive Producer, General Manager etc. This person then has the responsibility of hiring, evaluating, managing and if necessary, firing the organization’s other staff. These tasks might be delegated to others but ultimately, the buck stops with the staff head.

The Board has these same responsibilities with their one employee. This is often (and understandably) the most challenging part of their job description. After all, how do volunteers, that meet once a month or less, know enough about the day-to-day operations of an organization to evaluate its staff leader? How do they know what they are looking for in their next staff person when its time to hire? How do they know what to pay them?

There are no “one size fits all” answers to these questions but below are some useful tools that a Board can put in place to help.

 – An annual performance review. This is arguably the most important (and overlooked) tool at the Board’s disposal to manage their staff person. Boards that do not do a review have little information or power in the employer/employee relationship. How can a Board grant a raise if there is no assessment of performance? How would they dismiss someone with no formal evaluation history? How is an employee expected to function at their best with no feedback? If the Board does not have the internal capacity to do a review, they can enlist an HR professional to guide them.

 – An up-to-date job description. As part of the performance review, the Board (or committee of the Board) should discuss the existing job description with the employee. It should be updated annually based on current organizational operations and priorities. This process provides insight for the Board into the scope of the job and ensures that everybody is on the same page.

– A salary survey. A Board should know the market range for similar staff positions in comparably sized organizations in their region. This will serve them well in retaining a good employee and when they need to hire a new one.  A salary survey can be conducted with a few phone calls to colleagues on other Boards.

 – A strategic plan. This is the road map for the organization over a defined time period. If the plan is a living document that is central to every Board meeting, the Board will have a sense of how their employee is leading the organization through an agreed upon set of priorities.

We’ve followed most of this advice at Artspace, which, coupled with a great Board and staff, leaves the organization well equipped for a smooth transition as I prepare to leave my post for a new opportunity.

It’s been an honour to serve as Artspace’s Executive Director these last eight years and I look forward to watching the organization continue to flourish from afar.

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