Ken Goldstein, MPPA

Ken Goldstein has been working in nonprofits and local government agencies from Santa Cruz, to Sacramento, and back to Silicon Valley, since 1989. He's been staff, volunteer, board member, executive director, and, since 2003, a consultant to local nonprofit organizations. For more on Ken's background, click here. If you are interested in retaining Ken's services, you may contact him at ken at

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Board's Role in Supervising the Executive

I get lots of interesting questions by email, and I try to answer as many as I am qualified to give an opinion on. In this case, the sender is looking for your opinions, as well as my own:
Hi, Ken. I have a question for you and your readers. I am wondering about the duty line between Boards and an Executive Director of a non-profit. What is the role of the Board in supervising that E.D.? If there are problems on a regular basis with how the E.D. executes his/her goals and objectives (i.e. things that fall under the auspices of the E.D. and not the board) does the board deal with this as a normal supervisor would (asking for explanations, suggesting or requiring specific solutions?) or does the Board have to stay quiet? - Jenny - Albuquerque, NM
Jenny brings up a common problem; boards that don't properly carry out their duty as the Executive's supervisor.

While it is true that nonprofit boards should have no role in supervising other employees (all staff should report to the Executive Director or subordinate), the ED reports to the board, and it is the board's responsibility to ensure that the ED performs to their contract. That includes the things Jenny mentions (asking for explanations, suggesting or requiring specific solutions) all the way up to the removal of the ED, if necessary.

Equally important, and even more frequently forgotten, is the board's role in supervising a successful Executive Director. When EDs perform well, boards often feel they have met their obligations to the ED. The result is that years go by without a formal annual performance evaluation, and often without a raise, even to keep up with the cost of living.

So, yes, Jenny, the Board (or the executive committee of the board) does need to execute proper supervision and evaluation of the Executive Director - in both bad situations and good ones.

Do any other readers have anything else to add? Please post your comments below!


  1. You might want to check out BoardSource's 10 responsibilities of board members (
    and also the topic paper "Great Expectations: What Board Members and Chief Executives Need from Each Other" (

  2. What if the board can't distinguish between supervision and micro management? This has been a huge problem in our organization.

    1. Big problem and, unfortunately, a typical one. A board like this is not likely to either listen to the executive about this problem, or change quickly.

      It's best to bring in outside assistance in long-term board training and maybe coaching of the board chair (or whomever is the root of the problem).