Who in a nonprofit has the role to speak for the organization, particularly in times of crises: the leading volunteer (Board Chair) or the leading employee (CEO)?
I introduce this question after noting the following correction in a Wall Street Journal report on the misuse of funds possibly linked to CUNY school Deans and their related foundations.
CUNY Chancellor James B. Milliken said he takes seriously the findings of the state’s inspector general about the university. “CUNY must have in place the policies and practices that reflect and ensure the highest levels of integrity, accountability and transparency,” he said. An earlier version of this article incorrectly attributed that quote to CUNY’s board chairman, William C. Thompson Jr. (Nov. 15, 2016)
My perspective: it depends on the topic of the conversation. A simple way to slice and dice this: if the topic involves a fiduciary, strategic or advocacy nature, (the role of the nonprofit board) I would offer then that the Board Chair would be a good candidate recognizing of course that no one board member can or should represent the board unless that board is in agreement on the matter. This would then leave all matters not fiduciary or strategic to be able to be discussed by the CEO, more likely from a marketing perspective given that operational matters (the purview of the CEO) are not generally of interest to the public. And yes, both leaders could certainly share the podium together.
And in times of crises, particularly regarding internal matters? I would again pose that where such matters have an overall impact on the fiduciary and strategic well-being of the nonprofit, the Board Chair (or an agreed upon representative) would want to step-in to address public concerns. Bottom line: a nonprofit is not "owned" by the paid staff, it is "owned" by the board who themselves are actually surrogate owners for the public interest. And when it comes to expressing what are the values and basis for how the nonprofit operates and what is its focus, I believe the lead volunteer, the Board Chair, is the preferable spokesperson.
Does this mean that there may need to be training or coaching or mentoring to ensure the knowledge and comfort level of a less experienced Chair? Likely.