Board Cafe: The Board's Role in Personnel

Board Cafe

The Board's Role in Personnel

By Jan Masaoka

A frequently sticky issue for nonprofits is the role of the board of directors in personnel and human resource administration. Should the board approve all salaries, or just the executive director's? If a staff member has a grievance, should it come to the board? How can the board's Finance Committee members, for example, be helpful in the hiring of accounting staff, but not usurp the hiring role of the executive staff? How can a board member appropriately give feedback to the executive director on the behavior of a staffperson?

Each organization will want to choose its own guidelines on these sensitive and important issues. Here we give just one example for such guidelines, following our principle that the board as a whole governs the organization, while individual board members can be helpful advisors to staff.

Committee(s): The board can choose how to delegate personnel-related work; the most common choices are a Standing (permanent) HR Committee, an HR Task Force (that is, a temporary committee), or a board-staff standing committee or a board-staff task force. Committee members might include the staff HR Director (if there is one) or executive director, and/or non-board volunteers (such as an HR attorney). (If non-board individuals are members of the committee, decisions have to come back to the board for approval.) In some cases, the HR Committee is also responsible for developing plans and strategies for appropriate recruitment and utilization of volunteers, while in other organizations the HR Committee looks only at paid personnel. In this article we assume a board-staff Committee or Task Force that works only with matters related to paid staff.

1. Personnel policies and employee manual: The executive director is responsible for ensuring the dissemination and implementation of personnel policies and procedures, and that the policies are reviewed as appropriate by the board. At least every two years, the HR Committee reviews the policies with staff and, if appropriate, drafts changes or a complete revision.

2. Salary schedule: The executive staff drafts a rate schedule (salary ranges for each position or category) of salaries, which is reviewed by the HR Committee or Task Force. This ensures that the board has considered the strategic matters related to salaries which include: (1) Whether the schedule is in line with the organization's values. (2) Whether there is appropriate internal equity/differences among positions and departments. (3) Whether specific positions are appropriately placed on the scale. (4) Whether compensation is in line with that at similar organizations. (5) Or whether the compensation supports (rather than hinders) the organization's ability to recruit qualified staff. The HR Committee or Task Force sends the salary schedule to the whole board for approval.

3. Salary implementation: Once a year, the HR Committee or Task Force reviews the specific salaries of the staff (by name and position) against the salary schedule, to ensure that no individuals are being paid outside the range for that person's position. The Committee's job is NOT to review whether any specific individual has the right salary, but to protect against favoritism and ensure compliance with the salary schedule.

4. Benefits: The benefits schedule (health insurance, long-term disability insurance, 401K, etc.) is reviewed annually as part of the budget process, with costs projected for the coming year. The HR Committee should review the benefits package at least every two years, and can suggest changes (additions or subtractions), along with the financial implications, to the executive director and/or the board's finance committee.

5. Hiring: In some cases one or two board members may help with hiring; a common example is the Board Treasurer participating in the interviewing and hiring of the CFO or Accountant. It should be clear that the final decision is made by the staff person to whom the new hire would report. In this instance, individual board members are acting as advisors to staff.

6. Grievances: Grievances on the part of employees must first go through the written procedures outlined in the Employee Policies Manual. If an individual has exhausted the grievance process and that process has been documented, individual employees can be permitted (if it is so written in the Policies) to raise a grievance to either the Board Chair or the Board's HR Committee which then acts as the final arbiter.

7. Serious concerns about the organization's management: for example, the illegal use of funds, sexual harassment or discriminatory behavior by the executive director, or other SERIOUS concerns of a staff member that cannot be taken up in the grievance process. One way to address this is to allow staff members to raise such concerns with the Board Chair. When other board members hear such complaints, they have a responsibility to direct the staffperson to the Board Chair. By limiting the recipient of such charges to the Board Chair, a disgruntled staff member can't try to develop allies on the board against the executive staff, but can still bring an organizational matter to the attention of the board.

Original publication date: 06/27/2001

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