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Jun 28, 2012

Should nonprofit staff be on the board or at the meetings?

A reader of the Nonprofit Board Forum in LinkedIn asked “I am the ED of a small ($500K) non profit, and our board by-laws allow staff members on the board. This has proven challenging for me as the ED. ”

Having staff and certainly the CEO on the board is always awkward, especially for executive sessions. This is a very big issue in schools and universities. It is mostly an issue for the CEO: some feel slighted if they are not on the board and some don’t care. The reality is that the CEO has such a conflict of interest that, whether s/he has a vote or not, they must essentially ignore their board role and participate as a staff member. It is best to identify on the meeting agenda whether the executive session will include the CEO for part, all, or none of the session in order to avoid more awkwardness.

But this is a separate issue from whether staff should be at board meetings.  I think it is a mistake for board meetings to exclude staff.  Indeed, allowing staff to attend board meetings from time to time can boost staff morale.  Before you were on a board, didn’t you think that great things occurred in behind that closed door?

I laid out my thoughts on this in a chapter of More Than Just Money (pp.45-47). As I say in the beginning of that chapter, “Rather than make staff rely on rumor and hallway gossip, let them into the board room to see how issues are confronted, resources allocated, priorities set, and the organization’s future charted.  If you worry that hearing discussions of problems will discourage the staff, you can be sure the rumor mill will go well beyond what the facts warrant.”

What do you think?