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Board Member Tips to Managing Staffing Issues

By Marcie Wagner, CFRE
With information cited from Jan Masaoka

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The role of the board of directors in personnel administration should be clearly defined for nonprofits in order to limit potential conflict with your Executive Director. Some questions to ask of your board include: should the board approve all salaries, or just the executive director’s? If a staff member has a grievance, at what point can they come to the board? How can the board’s finance committee members, for example, be helpful in hiring accounting staff, but not undermine the hiring role of staff? How can a board member appropriately give feedback to the executive director on the behavior of a staff person given the assumption the board feels swift action must be taken?

Board teams tend to be hands on or hands off. For example, it’s common that some desire to be in the loop with regard to staff compensation, while others would be upset if they were involved in any administrative staffing issue – even compensation. This blog will present to you targeted guidelines specific to board roles without stepping on the toes of the ED’s authority.
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Guidelines for the Board’s Role in Non Profit Human Resource’s

1. Committee(s): The board establishes a board-staff sub-committee that works with matters related to human resources. This committee makes recommendations to the board for approval (rather than bringing matters to the board).
2. Personnel Policies: The executive director is responsible for ensuring that personnel policies and procedures are disseminated and implemented, and that the policies are reviewed as appropriate by the board. Individual members of the human resources committee may be able to bring their human resources expertise to make suggestions; every two years, the human resources committee reviews the policies with staff and, if appropriate, drafts changes.
3. Salary scales: The board Finance sub-committee working with the HR sub-committee should draft salary ranges for each position. This ensures that the board has considered the strategic matters related to salaries as they relate to organizations budget capacity. The salary schedule is sent by Finance committee to the whole board for approval. In this way, the executive staff are still responsible for salaries, but the range of salaries is one approved by the board.
4. Hiring: In some cases, at the request of the executive director, one or two board members may help during the interview process, particularly if you have an HR executive on the board. However, it should be clear to all involved that the final decision is made by the staff person to whom the new hire would report. In these situations individual board members are acting as advisors to staff.
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5. Layoffs: A management decision to lay off staff usually reflects a financial situation that should already have been shared with the board. In this context, the steps that management is taking to deal with that financial situation — whether layoffs, paycuts, new income strategies, or others — should be discussed with the board and the board should bless or put a hold on management actions. Although in most staffed organizations the decision of who to laid off and when and how are management decisions, it’s critical for the board and management to be in sync about how the organization is responding to financial problems.
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6. Grievances: Grievances on the part of employees must first go through the written procedures outlined in the employee policies manual. If an individual has exhausted the grievance process and that process has been documented, individual employees may be permitted (if it is so written in the policies) to raise a grievance to either the board chair or the board’s human resources committee, which then acts as the final arbiter. This may be especially appropriate where the complaining employee reports to the executive director and has an unresolved complaint about the executive director.
7. Serious charges about the organization’s management: Sometimes a staff member has a serious charge against management, such as the illegal or improper use of funds, sexual harassment, discriminatory behavior, or improper accounting methods that cannot be taken up in the grievance process. To provide an outlet for such matters (other than a complaint to the state attorney general), some organizations allow staff members to raise such concerns with the board chair. When other board members hear such complaints, they have a responsibility to direct the staff person to the board chair. By making the board chair the sole recipient of such charges, the board can prevent a disgruntled staff member from trying to develop allies on the board against the executive staff, and can provide a way to bring an organizational matter to the attention of the board as a whole.
Delegating Personnel Work
The board can choose how to delegate personnel-related work. The most common choices are:
• a standing (permanent) human resources committee,
• a human resources task force (that is, a temporary committee),
• a board-staff standing committee, or a
• board-staff task force.
Committee members might include the staff human resources director (if there is one) or executive director, and/or non-board volunteers such as a human resources attorney. (Note that if non-board individuals are members of the committee, either they should be as non-voting advisory members of the committee, or the committee’s recommendations should come back to the board for approval.) In some cases, the human resources committee is also responsible for developing plans and strategies for appropriate recruitment and utilization of volunteers, while in other organizations the human resources committee looks only at paid personnel.
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Each organization will want to choose its own guidelines on these sensitive and important issues. Striking the right balance between board and ED authority may initially be challenging, but it’s far from impossible. In the end, sorting this out will strengthen your organization while making life easier for board members and staff.

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