publication date: Sep 28, 2012
author/source: Jane Garthson
Should a charity consider hiring a board
member for the paid role of Director of Development (DoD) within the
organization? Let's consider the issues.
does such a move make possible?
A dedicated, passionate board member who is
already somewhat knowledgeable about the organization and sector wants a staff
position. And they have the skills to compete for an opening. They may already
know some of the donors and funders, and should be perceived as speaking from
the heart, given their volunteer service.
How could this not be a good thing for the
charity? Sometimes it is, but read on because there are many pitfalls.
is this different from a volunteer becoming staff?
Many people volunteer to increase their
chances of finding employment. Sometimes that employment is with the
organization where they've been volunteering. It means they've demonstrated not
only good skills and attitude but ability to keep commitments and fit in. And they
have a running start on the new job because they already know some of the
people and programs. Generally, this is a good way for a nonprofit to hire.
But a board member sets direction, approves
the plans and budget, and evaluates the executive director. They may be
perceived as putting undue pressure on the person doing the hiring, or even as
having created the job opening in order to fill it themselves.
Whose interests are being served? Perhaps
that board member had been complaining for years that the organization needed
to add a DoD position in order to increase fundraising revenue. And they never
mentioned wanting the job until the position was established. Were they
thinking of the best interests of the community and organization, or of paying
off their debts? Were they desperate and using their board position for
personal gain? In my experienced, a board member that wants to make the shift
to a staff role is almost always unemployed or under-employed.
Anyone who has been around the sector for a
while has seen a senior staff member forced out by someone who wanted their
job. Board chairs are particularly able to make that happen. There will be
extra suspicion if the chair then takes the position.
Remember, even when a senior staff person needs
to move on because their competencies no longer match their role, they likely
have many allies on the staff and in the community. When asked by donors and
other supporters about what happened, remaining staff members may feel very
uncomfortable supporting the new DoD.
pan or fire?
Consider how the Executive Director would
feel about choosing the board member for the DoD position. A former boss
becomes an employee. Will the person be emotionally able to make that shift, or
still act as boss? Will the person feed operational information and gossip back
to friends on the board? Could this undermine the Executive Director? How will
the board react if the person doesn't work out and has to be fired? How will
staff react to a hire they may see as forced upon the ED when others might have
been better qualified? What if everyone expected a certain staff member to be
promoted, and now that person reports to the former board member?
The opposite case can be even worse. The
Executive Director doesn't choose the board member as DoD. Now the Executive
Director reports to someone he or she has rejected! That director can make life
very hard for the ED, and whoever is hired instead will be subject to extra
scrutiny by those who think the director should have been chosen. The ED might
be seen as thinking the director was good enough to lead but not to support. Of
course, that thinking is silly as the competencies are so different, but you
can't control perceptions.
is there an ethical way?
There are a number of essential steps to
establishing a fair process.
we have a policy against such transitions?
- The board
member interested in the DoD position refrains from all discussions about
the position, and declares a conflict if a related issue comes to a vote.
This is quite difficult, as plans that set priorities and assign resources
deal with all parts of the organization.
- The board
member learns about the position's qualifications, competencies and
responsibilities, and fairly assesses themselves as well qualified. Though
they may need help from others to do this, they should not put the organization's
staff on the spot by asking for their opinions.
- The board member resigns before applying. This should not be
negotiable. A leave of absence is inadequate.
- The board
makes no commitments about what will happen if the director is not
Executive Director takes particular care to ensure real and perceived fair
competition, and keeps good documentation that shows the best qualified
person was hired.
- The board
then stays completely out of
the hiring process, not even asking if the person was interviewed.
- If the
person is successful, the directors refuse to hear any organizational
gossip from the new employee, or to allow them to bypass the chain of
command and take issues directly to board members. The directors give full
respect to the new board colleague who replaced the one who resigned to
apply, and they do not allow the former director to keep acting like a
- If the
person is unsuccessful, they are considered as any other candidate would
be in terms of filling board vacancies. The effect on the Executive
Director of a reappointment is explicitly taken into account. The board
makes its decision based on what is best for the community and
organization. One option is to consider the individual for the board again
after one year has gone by.
resignation before applying is critical so that the Executive Director
does not immediately have to deal with someone on the board who is upset.
You may think the board member will handle it professionally, but you
truly can't know that in advance. An interview after the decision is
announced is a better way to find out how the person is reacting to
Many organizations have a policy that
former staff cannot join the board until at least a year has passed, and I
consider such policies very wise.
The situation is less clear in the opposite
direction. Many good staff members have come from board positions, and staff
positions cannot usually be left vacant for a year! However, the more senior
the staff position, the harder it is to have the selection perceived as
So for a job like DoD, the director needs
to be an exceptional candidate to make dealing with suspicions and staff
concerns worthwhile. Sometimes they are, so I wouldn't close the door. I'd
rather see a policy that outlines the roles and processes to be used, and keeps
the interested director out of the discussions and votes.
Garthson is president of the Garthson Leadership Centre, dedicated
to creating better futures for our communities and our organizations through
values-based leadership. She's a contributing author to You and Your Nonprofit.
For more information, see http://www.garthsonleadership.ca.