The Importance of Trust

on in Fundraising

Oversight. Management. Hands-on but not Hands-in.

It's a tough relationship to manage, between board members and the executive director.

And the distinction – that the board oversees the executive director, but board members are not an executive director's “boss” – is a tough one.

How do you establish the trust that gives an executive director the autonomy to run a nonprofit without board member interference, yet assures the board that the executive director is managing the agency well?

And, how can you re-establish trust for a board that's micromanaging the executive director on too tight a leash? 


Establishing trust, in any employee-supervisor relationship, is about assuring your boss that you can perform well to outcomes in a time-sensitive manner.

Every time a junior staff member drafts an email that's perfectly composed and shows it to their boss, that's one more email closer they are to having their boss say: “Just do it yourself next time.”

And when a senior staff member strikes up a constructive conversation with a partner agency, they're one step closer to their boss sending them out on their own to take a meeting by themselves.

And so it goes in board relationships – with a twist.

The executive director, newly hired, is presumed able to perform all aspects of their job.

But boards need reassurance.

Communication is key. Informing the board, on a regular basis, of performance accomplishments – like meetings with funders, new hires, program achievements – can give board members a sense of how things are going; and that the executive director is doing their job.

Having regular, candid conversations with the board president – indeed the executive committee – can provide context for them to judge the executive director's job performance; which can then allow them to give the ED the space that's needed to carry out the day to day.

Tell them more, not less, in the beginning of an executive director's tenure – then back off. This doesn't mean to give them every detail – but tell them enough to provide evidence, in all areas of the ED's purview, that you're doing your job well.

And when it's an instance of reestablishing trust after a pattern of board member micromanaging, more rather than less is also a watchword. It's hard, because the impulse is to withhold, to back them off of your domain.

But to wean a board off of micro-managing, they need to feel assured that you're doing your job well when they're not around.

So show them, by what you share, that that's the case.

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