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Tool 1: Management Models

In order to construct a management plan that's right for your organization, you need to decide exactly what management means to you. There are a number of philosophical models that management can take. Those most widely used in non-profit organizations are probably the following:

Classic hierarchy

In this model, all leadership and control comes from the top (typically, in the case of a non-profit organization, from a director or Board chair). In general, there are layers in the organization, and each layer is responsible to the one above it and in charge of the one below it.

There are advantages and disadvantages to all management systems, but in most cases, especially for grass roots and community-based organizations, this is the least appropriate. The top-down nature of the structure often means that the creativity and ideas of those at lower levels are lost. It also encourages protecting one's position and real or imagined privileges, and discourages initiative (people, except at the highest management levels, are unlikely to try anything new for fear of doing something wrong). The effectiveness, vision, and functioning of the organization depend almost entirely on the individual in charge: if she is unimaginative, rigid, a bully, opposed to all change, or simply a less-than-ideal leader, the organization probably won't flourish.

A hierarchical structure carries the added disadvantage of being inconsistent with the ideals of most grass-roots and community based organizations. These organizations generally exist to help people gain more power over their lives, or to foster positive social change -- concepts unthinkable in classical hierarchies -- which thrive on power-based relationships and lack of change.

Democratic hierarchy

Management still comes from the top in this model, but managers at all levels consult with those affected before making decisions. Everyone's opinion is asked for, and ideas are expected to come from all levels of the organization. There is an attempt to give everyone the power necessary to control the things she's responsible for, and to do her job as effectively as possible.

All staff in a democratic hierarchy, from director to receptionist, usually treat one another as equals. Staff friendships often cross management lines (unusual in a traditional hierarchical organization) and, while people have different responsibilities, that doesn't necessarily translate to differences in status within the organization.

Democratic hierarchies are far more common in non-profit especially community based and grass-roots organizations than they are in business or government. They allow for more initiative, make it easier and more pleasant for people to do their jobs, and are more likely to reflect the principles of the organization. They are probably somewhat less efficient than traditional hierarchies, in that decisions may take longer to make, and there is usually more discussion about nearly everything. What they lack in efficiency, however, democratic hierarchies often make up in staff satisfaction (which leads to increased effectiveness), innovation, idealism, and a general sense of shared organizational vision and purpose.

Total Quality Management (TQM) is a management structure that bears some similarity to both classic and democratic hierarchies. TQM as a whole is not necessarily a good system for a community-based or grass-roots organization, but it has many features that can be useful in thinking about non-profit management.

Collaborative management

In this arrangement, while people still occupy different positions in the organizational structure, management is a result of collaboration. Major decisions, often including those determining such matters as salary levels, are made jointly by all staff. The organizational vision and mission is often also worked out among all staff, and may be under constant discussion and revision. In a collaborative organization, everyone has a say in the direction of the organization.

Collaborative management is difficult to put into operation. As with a democratic hierarchy, everyone must have the authority necessary to carry out his job; but that also has to be balanced with the need for input when a decision affects the organization as a whole, or concerns its basic philosophy. Effective collaborative management calls for everyone being well informed about issues affecting the workings of the organization, and calls also for a large commitment on the part of those whose jobs are not administrative to try to understand and stay current on administrative issues. Perhaps, most important, collaboration demands that people check their egos at the door, and base their deliberations on the good of the organization and the advancement of its mission.

On the other hand, when it works well, a collaborative management system provides a very high sense of ownership among staff, spreads responsibility for the success of the organization over a broad range of people (thus increasing the total amount of attention being paid to making sure that things go well), and actually reflects the principles of an organization that supports empowerment.

Collective management

Collective management is extremely difficult to operate successfully. Collectives can work in different ways, but the essential idea is that the collective as a whole owns the organization, and therefore everyone has an equal voice in everything having to do with the organization. Decisions are often made by consensus, which means everyone (and "everyone" may refer to all staff, or to all staff and participants, or even to some larger group) has to agree before anything can be acted upon. Administrative roles may revolve among several or all members of the collective, or may simply not exist, in which case everyone shares in completing administrative tasks as they come up.

There are many successful collectives, and the collective philosophy is one that rightly appeals to organizations that are concerned with empowerment and equality. But there are enormous barriers to collective success, the largest of which is that everyone in the organization has to be totally dedicated to collective ideals, and must be willing to subordinate his own needs to the good of the organization. One stubborn, self-centered individual can make consensus a joke either by holding out until everyone agrees with him out of exhaustion or frustration, or by making it impossible to make decisions at all. One person who doesn't do her job can make life miserable for everyone else, and it's difficult in a collective to create philosophically consistent mechanisms for dealing with such a situation. Effective collective management is by no means impossible, but it takes so much unselfishness and such careful planning, and it's so hard to sustain, that the author would recommend that an organization just developing a management plan look at it as something to evolve toward, rather than a place to start.

Tool 2: Roles and Relationships

How your organization sees the roles of director and Board, and their relationships with each other and with the rest of the staff, are crucial to any management plan. When everyone works well together, and understands and respects the boundaries of their own and everyone else's roles, the organization is probably going to function well regardless of the management structure. But if there is confusion or conflict over who has what authority, the organization is less likely to accomplish its goals effectively, and life within it will be difficult.

Role of the director

There are several possible definitions of the director's role in an organization. While a collaborative organization obviously needs a collaborative director, the other definitions could really apply to any management model that includes a director.

The terms "strong," "weak," and "collaborative" in the following descriptions of directors and Boards don't refer to personal characteristics: they are simply ways of describing how the director's and Board's positions are viewed in different circumstances.

  • A strong director truly runs the organization. The Board and others (the CFO, or Chief Financial Officer, for instance, or even staff members) may have a consulting or oversight role, but the strong director makes most of the decisions for the organization. She doesn't have to look over her shoulder to make sure that everyone approves of what she does (although she may choose to).
  • A weak director is merely the arm of the Board of Directors. The Board makes all important decisions, and the weak director carries them out and performs whatever administrative tasks are necessary to keep the organization running.
  • A collaborative director works in concert with the Board and staff. He may be responsible for the day-to-day running and overall management of the organization, but he participates in collaborative decision-making and isn't necessarily the final authority in all situations.
  • Some organizations may choose to have joint directors, perhaps an executive director, who are in charge of the fiscal and administrative aspects of management, and a program director, who oversees the actual work the program (providing services, advocacy, etc.). These directors may be strong, weak, or collaborative, depending upon how the organization functions. In any case, they must be able to work together well, and their positions and responsibilities must be clearly defined so that there's no conflict over who's in charge of what.

In any of these cases, depending both upon how the organization operates and upon the preferences of the director, she may do most management chores herself, or may delegate much of the work to others.

Probably as important as the role the director plays in an organization is her personal management style. Is she a leader, with the vision and the passion to motivate staff and move the organization ahead? Is she a boss, who sees herself as the person who's in control and who must tell everyone else what to do? Is she a friend, who builds personal relationships with everyone on the staff, and cares about them as individuals (but who, as a result, may have some difficulty dealing with a staff member who isn't doing his job well)? Is she collaborative and inclusive, trying to involve everyone in decision-making and paying attention to others' ideas and concerns? Is she secretive and private, never sharing information, problems, or decision-making?

Most directors probably combine some or all of these styles, or employ them at different times. While a certain amount of management style depends on personality, those who are uncomfortable with others are unlikely to build strong relationships with everyone on staff; it can also be the result of conscious choice on the director's part. Organizations can choose as well, making sure by careful hiring and clear communication that they get the kinds of directors they want.

Role of the Board of Directors

Boards of Directors may act as advisors, may make organizational policy, or may actually run the organization.

  • Strong Boards essentially run their organizations. They make most decisions, and Board members often do much of the work of the organization. The director, if one exists, simply carries out the will of the Board and performs whatever tasks are necessary to keep the organization functioning.
  • Policy-making Boards may or may not be strong Boards as well. They set general policy for the organization, and determine, or help to determine, its mission and goals. In most cases, they don't involve themselves directly in the day-to-day operation of the organization.
  • Engaged Boards, common in non-profits, share some responsibility for the running of the organization with the director. They are usually policy-makers, and have to approve major decisions. The Board chair and/or committee members meet regularly with the director and other staff, and may oversee at least part of the actual work of the organization.
  • Weak Boards exist largely to rubber-stamp the decisions of the director (or collaborative).They may also function in an advisory capacity, but take little initiative or responsibility for the oversight of the organization.
  • Advisory Boards usually have no power, but exist to help provide information and perspective to the organization and its director and staff. Their voices may be listened to and highly respected, or they may be a façade, depending upon the organization.

Most non-profit Boards have other functions besides their part in the management of the organization. They often engage in fundraising, public and community relations efforts, advocacy, and other activities. Thus, some weak Boards may be weak only in the sense of their control over the organization: they may, in fact, be extremely successful and dynamic in their fundraising or other abilities, and may be of tremendous value to the organization. The role of a Board in a particular situation depends upon both the personalities involved and the needs of the organization.

Relationships among Board, director, and staff

Given the many possible roles for directors and Boards, and the many possible combinations they represent, relationships among directors, Boards, and staff can be complex and confusing. If those relationships aren't well-defined and appropriate for the organization, they can cause enormous problems, and even wreck the organization.

It is not unusual for directors and Boards to have different views about where the power should lie. Good directors, after all, are usually forceful and confident people, and good Boards are also made up of forceful and confident people. Director and Board may engage in a long-term wrestling match to determine who will actually guide the organization. Unfortunately, such a struggle usually detracts from the effectiveness of the organization, and creates tension that filters down to everyone. It's vital that organizations define the relationship between director and Board clearly; otherwise, they're asking for trouble.

Exactly what that relationship should be depends, first of all, on how the organization views itself. Does it want one strong leader who will set the direction and tone of the organization, or does it want more voices to be heard? Does it want a collaborative arrangement between Board and director? Does it want a "flat" structure where everyone (staff and participants as well) has a say in the running of the organization?

For organizations which are not collaboratives, the most common arrangement is one in which the director has the authority to run the organization day-to-day, and the Board sets policy. The Board must therefore be consulted before the director commits the organization to a course of action that is substantively different from what it's done before. This type of management structure gives the director the power he needs to do his job, and at the same time provides a check on that power to prevent him from committing the organization to something inconsistent with its mission, or to something it doesn't have the resources to do.

For collaboratives, the question of relationships is much trickier. If the Board makes policy, it needs to consult not only with the director, but with staff. The staff's and director's roles are not as distinct as in hierarchies, and authority or power (and the two are not always the same thing) can get muddy. In a collaborative situation, it is absolutely crucial that the organization defines the boundaries for everyone, and that policies and procedures describe clearly who has what responsibilities and authority. It is also crucial that everyone in the organization be dedicated to the same goals, and be willing (at least some of the time) to compromise or to back down in order to keep the organization running smoothly.

In any circumstances, organizations almost always work best when everyone, from the maintenance person to the director, feels that she has a reasonable amount of control over her own job, and that she has a chance to be heard about decisions that affect her. If people are part of a decision, it becomes their decision, and they are much more likely to accept and carry it out. They are also more likely to feel that they "own" the organization, and to do their best work in order to make sure it flourishes. Wherever the power in the organization lies, it makes sense to include staff members in at least some of the decisions that affect their working lives.

Tool 3: Policies and Procedures

Areas for which your organization might need policies and procedures:

  • Management strategy: who participates in decisions, where the lines of authority reside, etc.
  • Relationships among director, staff, Board, and participants
  • Personnel: pay schedules and benefits; working hours and conditions; leave policy; staff orientation and training; boundaries of, and relationships among, positions and individuals; communication; hiring and firing; supervision; evaluation of performance; grievance and appeal procedures; legal issues, etc.
  • Fiscal management
  • Day-to-day concerns: who can use which equipment and when, procedures for opening and closing the office, computer security, etc.
  • The actual work of the organization: what methods are to be used, if there are specific requirements; scope of the work (who gets served, what issues will be addressed ); limits to numbers of participants who can be served; ethical issues (personal relationships between therapists and clients in a mental health center, for example); how particular circumstances should be handled (racist remarks, e.g.); etc.
  • Record keeping and confidentiality
  • Emergency procedures, for everything from fire to violence to counseling and political issues
  • Security and personal safety for everyone involved with the organization
  • Insurance and organizational liability, indemnification of staff and Board
  • Office procedures: what gets filed where, which files are confidential, who does what, checking in and out, phone issues, etc.
  • The ordering and management of goods and services
  • Non-discrimination, ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act), etc.
  • Relationships with the media
  • Relationships with other agencies, funders, and the community