Wrestling with Board and Staff Contacts

Adrianne DuMond

How often have you been faced with the question of whether or not the Board should have access to contacting a staff person directly? In the ideal world, where trust and openness are valued, this is no issue. But I have known of agencies where it was forbidden for staff members to talk to the Board. I believe this outcome only happens when Board or staff have misbehaved, have not had policies in place, and have not honored the practices of courtesy and respect. 

It is harmful to have staff think they can voice complaints and problems to a Board member directly. It is also questionable practice for a Board member to go directly to a staff person to ferret out opinions without the Executive Director knowing about it. Executive Directors may feel that information shared independently between staff and Board creates misleading, and/or biased information. They are probably right to make this assumption, so often it is a sticky point with them. They wish to be open and candid, to uphold the importance of openness to the public. But miscommunication can foster distrust and lack of harmony for all concerned. 

But restricting independent communication between Board and staff can also lead to suspicion on the part of the Board, and resentment by the staff – that the Executive Director doesn’t trust us. Maybe some guidelines can help both parties feel safe and productive. 

  • There will be no restrictions on contact between a Board member and the staff, but the Executive Director must be informed beforehand of the intention and the purpose. This can be in person, an email, or phone message.
  • Personnel issues must be handled according to the Personnel Policy manual, which should state how complaints and grievances are handled. This is a very important guideline in order to protect the agency (Executive Director, Board member, and staff involved) in case a lawsuit should surface out of the circumstances.
  • It is advised to have a whistleblower policy in place so that everyone understands what the protocol is for raising serious issues – e.g., financial malfeasance, sexual harassment, etc.
  • Board members may request information/reports of the staff, but they must go through the Executive Director. This may be additional copies of reports already prepared by the staff or new/expanded information. But they should be mindful of the workload and additional resources required to provide the request(s). 

This article is taken from one by Jan Masaoka, Editor in Chief of Blue Avocado, an excellent source for Board knowledge of non profits, and found on line.

Author:  Adrianne DuMond,  Executive Coaches of Orange County,  www.ECofOC.org