By Anne Jin Soo Preston
When I was serving on the board for Springboard for the Arts, the organization experienced exponential growth in budget and staff and, as a result, a significant increase in financial and governing oversight for the board. There was a lot of confusion between what the board should weigh in about and how even the staff needed to communicate across the organization on the ever-changing details and opportunities that were happening. It was during this time that I led a pop-up board structures committee. The committee was charged with creating a tool that could help us clearly understand the roles and responsibilities of board and staff in regards to financial/governing decisions and ensuring we were including best practices along the way.
For many nonprofit organizations, clearly defining the boundaries for board and staff between the day-to-day operations and governance can be difficult. During times of high growth, it can be even more challenging. Often, boards do not understand what their governance role should be when it comes to financials, grants, partnerships, and human resources. Utilizing a tool like the Decisions Matrix can help clarify those roles and help staff and board know how and when they need to take action.
The Decisions Matrix is a tool that helps distinguish between the day-to-day operations of the ED/staff and when the board should take action as governors of the organization. The Decisions Matrix provides roles for governance/oversight, and process while incorporating policies and practices of the board and staff. When it was created, we chose to include best practices in for each of the areas (budget, grants, partnerships, human resources), to help ensure that they are “baked into” the tool. The Decisions Matrix can be modified to fit the size and budget of any organization, accommodate any staff structure, and adapt to various roles for each staff/board. The tool also outlines the following roles/responsibilities:
Input – Identifies who will give feedback for preparation of the financial action
Prepare – The person(s) who drafts the actions necessary for review/approval
Review – Identifies who will review the decision before approval
Approve – The person(s) who approves the actions and executes them
Notify – Identifies who will receive notification after the action is taken
Having a tool like this at our fingertips made board discussions easy to navigate if a question came up about the board’s role. A board member would pull out their matrix and figure out the action that needed to occur. If you decide to make a Decisions Matrix for your organization, make sure to revisit it and revise as issues/decisions arise and incorporate an annual review to keep it relevant as your organization grows and changes.