Executive Director, Deputy Director & Founders – Part One

Sections of this topic

    The following is the first part of an email exchange with a reader:

    “My partner and I are creating a non-profit organization, and we will serve as Executive Director (me) and Deputy Director (my partner) as well as, of course, founders.”

    Executive Director and Deputy Director are titles of functioning roles. Founder is a description of a person, not a functioning role.

    At this point, during the birth and first faltering steps of the new baby, titles are kind of irrelevant. It’s when you really get organized and are close to providing services that there needs to be a distinction/separation between board members and employees/staff.

    “We are also founding board members, because we need three directors to incorporate (we have a third) and because we are doing all the work, obviously.”

    That’s a given, and only needs to change as noted above.

    “We want to build our board and have a list of potential prospects.”

    •   Make sure you have a job description for board members.
    •   Make sure all potential board members clearly understand what’s expected of them.
    •   Make sure that all board members will give ($$$) to the best of their ability — if they
        won’t, why should anyone else?
    •   Make sure they aren’t just chair warmers, that they can contribute to advancing the

    “My partner and I plan to take salaries once we have the money to do so, as we will continue to have day-to-day roles. My questions are:

    “1. Should we remain board members once we take salaries or step off the board? Is there a timeline for when we should plan to make this transition? How should we do this?”

    •   It would be a conflict of interest for paid staff to be board members.
    •   You would, first, have to resign from the board, then be hired by the board to be
        Executive Director.
    •   The Executive Director hires all other staff members.

    “2. When should we start recruiting other board members?”

    Start evaluating potential board members now, for recruitment later. “Later” is when board members would actually have a function. You should not recruit people just to warm chairs.

    “3. How will governance of us as founders work? Will we basically be choosing board members who will immediately have authority over us as staff? I know the board normally supervises the ED, and I wholeheartedly agree with the checks and balances this puts into place. But how does this strange little transition happen? When do we stop acting as board members and start acting as ED and DD? How do we balance both while we get things going?”

    Again, once you are staff, the fact that you were the founders becomes irrelevant … as relates to the governance/functioning of the organization. Once you’re staff, you are subject to the dictates of the board … no qualification/exception because you were the founders. The board “owns” the organization … period. They make the decisions as to mission (which they can change as they will) and finances, and they evaluate and (if they think it necessary) replace the Executive Director.

    As to how it all happens … it’s gradual. See my posting on “What Is A Mature Organization.”

    Watch for Part Two of this email exchange in next Tuesday’s post.


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