Management of a non-profit organization presents an unusual structure that can be both successful as well as prone to failure. While many historic theatres operate under a non-profit management structure, with a board of directors, there are as many horror stories as there are success stories.

Finding the right mix of talent, passion and ego in support of an organization’s mission can often be challenging, and smooth operations can often be cyclical with troubled times, depending upon the composition of key members of the management staff and board of directors. An important starting point is a clear understanding of the roles and responsibilities of each party. For example, a non-profit board is tasked, by definition, to guide the overall actions of the organization and make sure it stays true to its mission. They are responsible for the fiscal health of the entity, as well as the legal compliance related to the tax-exempt status. They are responsible for the evaluation and performance of the C.E.O./executive director. A good board operates at a level far above the daily operations. By contrast, a board is not responsible for the day-to-day operations of an organization, they are not responsible for acting as the chief spokesperson, or for reviewing staff performance issues.

An executive director of an historic theatre also has specific roles that need to be filled while not doing the board’s job. A good director will interface with the board to keep them up to speed, will offer counsel on how board decisions relate to operations and will support board activities in regard to fundraising. A good ED will also represent the organization to the community, be the liaison to the full staff and will be accountable for implementing the board’s vision of the organization.

So who’s in charge? Ideally a partnership should exist between a board chair and an executive director. A relationship based upon trust, respect, shared goals and communication. The challenge is to keep that relationship intact through changing board leadership and both good times and bad times in a theatre’s life. Much like the hiring process for an executive director, board leadership should be carefully vetted with the goal of an harmonious working relationship as the goal.