As most of us know, the vision, governance, and support a board of directors provides to nonprofits plays a critical role in the staff’s success in carrying out the organization’s mission. But what exactly are the appropriate lines of engagement between board and staff? How much interaction is too much and how much is too little?
Yes, this looks different for each organization—depending on critical factors like the nonprofit’s size, culture, and scope of work. In this Blue Avocado article by Jan Masaoka, “Should Staff Contact with the Board Be Restricted,” the benefits and hesitations behind board and staff interaction highlight why this is not a black and white situation.
Masaoka offers a few guidelines to help structure the relationship between board and staff in a healthy and productive way that is in the best interest of the organization:
· No restrictions for board-staff contact, but the executive director should be aware of meetings
· In board-staff meetings, keep discussion appropriate and within bounds of the topic (e.g. it would be inappropriate to discuss whether the board or executive director is acting responsibly in finance)
· Board can request information from staff, but not in a way that would require extra work from the staff (so it would be something already prepared)
· Personnel grievances must go through channels specified in the appropriate policies
· The organization should have a whistleblower policy to protect staff and to comply with federal law
While these are great guidelines to follow, the last suggestion from Masaoka hits on a point that the Charities Review Council feels is nonnegotiable.
When organizations go through the Charities Review Council’s Accountability Wizard®, one of the 27 Accountability Standards they must meet is our Whistleblower Policy Standard, which requires organizations to “maintain a policy and communicate the procedures for the reporting and investigation of complaints about perceived or possible illegalities, questionable practices, or policy violations.”
Something we recommend to organizations when writing this policy, is that it includes a way for employees to bring their concern about mismanagement or other issues directly to the board. This ensures that employees have a direction to take in case they are uncomfortable approaching the executive director directly.
We review hundreds and hundreds of different types of whistleblower policies and it might be surprising to learn that this idea that employees should be able to go directly to the board is sometimes not included. To help organizations revise their whistleblower policy to meet our Standard and include this recommendation, in our resources of sample documents, we provide a sample Whistleblower Policy.
So yes, while no organization is the same, and board-staff interaction will look different for different organizational cultures, the importance of a whistleblower policy that allows for cross board-staff communication is important in creating an accountable, transparent, and healthy nonprofit.