Good Board/Bad Board Part 2 – Board duties Vs. Staff duties

One of the most common issues related to non-profit Boards and their organizations is division of duties. While it is important to find board members with applicable experience and interest, it is also important to remember that a board’s priority is not to operate the facility on a day-to-day basis. Often referred to as “Flying at 50,000 feet,” a non-profit board should be setting policy, raising funds and acting as the fiscal steward of the organization. Where many boards get into trouble, is when they are “down in the weeds” of day-to-day operation/management.

One very succinct definition of roles and responsibilities that I like is that a board defines the “What” that should occur and the staff implements the “How” of how that mandate is implemented. For example, a board may decide that a particular type of programming would benefit the organization, community or potential stakeholders. This may be due to possible funding, political activity, or even personal preference. That mandate is then handed off the Executive Director and their staff to implement the specifics. It is not up to the Board to define the details of the program (film titles, specific performing acts, etc.), rather that is the role of the staff who are in tune with those aspects of the business and the facility. Following the implementation of said program the exec. Dir. Should prepare a report for the board to gauge its success or failure.

When board members become mired in the day-to-day details of operations and programming, they lose sight of their mission and the organization fails. Equally, staff members need to focus on the mandate of the board, and acknowledge that it is the board’s expertise that has guided the decision. When either the board or staff looses respect for the other party, irreparable damage to the organization can occur.

Some steps to insure a healthy board/staff relationship include:

• Clearly defined roles and responsibilities

• Familiarity between facility staff and board and understanding of duties

• Regular communication between the entities via Executive Director

• Recognition by staff that board members are VOLUNTEERS

• Recognition by board that staff members work very hard

Like any relationship, the one between an historic theatre’s staff and its board of directors can become strained over time due to work-load, specific personalities, and financial strain. A clear understanding and appreciation of each others roles and responsibilities will go along way towards avoiding conflict that may harm the institution.

Through the passion, commitment and advocacy of best practices by Herb Stratford, the leadership team of the Paramount Theatre was able to not only clear the debt, but create a cash positive Operating Budget. Herb’s passion and leadership role in advocating for theatre preservation and best practices has guided hundreds of theatre and arts administrators.

Mary Beth Aungier
Manager, Lockn’ Festival, Arrington, Virginia; Former Executive Director, Paramount Theatre, Charlottesville, Virginia