The successful transition from a volunteer-led organization to one with professional staff depends on two factors: agreement about the board's role when working with professional staff and realistic goals about the organization's capacity.
Volunteers and staff both burn out quickly if expectations don't fit available capacity. The questions identified under What You Can Do will help guide the discussion of both factors. Specific steps in this situation include:
- Clarify the new staff person's authority to make decisions and which decisions have to go through the board.
- Identify a primary liaison between the board and the staff. This is usually the board chair. The role of the liaison is to channel instructions through one person to make sure that staff isn't overwhelmed by requests or assignments from several sources.
- Make sure board members understand the limits of their individual authority, and that the staff person may not be able to respond to all requests made of him or her.
- Discuss how the board's work will change when the staff person is in place. What meaningful contributions will board members be asked to make? What tasks will they no longer handle at the board level? What authority do they have now over decisions they used to control?
- Set up a mechanism for evaluating the staff person. Click here for more about Evaluating the Executive Director.
- Agree about the way in which communication will be handled between the staff person and the board. Will everyone get every email? Will the board chair be cc'd on all emails from board members to the staff? How often will the chair or other board leaders be available to the staff member for questions and guidance? How often will the staff person report back and on what topics?
Approach the hiring process professionally, which involves:
1) Creating a job description.
2) Identifying the skills and qualifications required.
3) Determining an appropriate salary. This can be done through conversations with other nonprofits or information from professional sources, such as the Foundation Center, the Nonprofit Coordinating Committee of New York, or accountants who are familiar with the nonprofit sector. Match the salary you are able to pay to the job qualifications and expectations you establish.
4) Agree on an interview process.
5) Check references.
Board Benefits Leading an organization through the transition to professional staff helps boards:
- Develop a process for defining the respective roles of board and staff in a way that can be applied to future phases of the organization's development.
- Establish realistic expectations for the board and the staff, forming a basis for ongoing evaluation.
- Create communication protocols and mechanisms that balance inclusion with efficiency.
- Clarify decision-making processes and authority.
For How Outside Expertise Can Help, click here.
For Roles Moving Forward, click here.