Division of labor, multiplication of results

Flying, as ever, in the face of conventional cut-your-expenses wisdom, the Nonprofiteer wonders why all nonprofits don’t adopt the bifurcated leadership model common in the arts: an Artistic Director to lead program, a Managing Director to handle resource acquisition and allocation.   

Wouldn’t social service agencies operate better with someone at the helm whose expertise was effective service to clients and someone at the rudder whose expertise was squeezing every dime til it shrieked?  These are not identical skills–they’re not even complementary–and for charities to insist on combining them into a unitary Executive Director means one part of what they need done will almost inevitably be done badly.

And if donors are serious about wanting to see rigorous metrics of charities’ effectiveness, they’ll recognize that it takes two: one leader to innovate, experiment and rethink client services and another to measure, evaluate and assess the results. 


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6 Responses to “Division of labor, multiplication of results”

  1. Chris Casquilho Says:

    Speaking for the theatre managers: the executive authority of the NP sector is already diffuse. The artistic directors and managing of directors of the world grapple with this this extra piece of split decision-making every day. The split is an artifact of the theatre, and tends to disappear in very large theatres which have an exec over both the operations department and the AD. Many very small theatres only have ADs, and many more mid-sized two-or-three man operations are now sporting a “Producing Artistic Director” – filling all four shoes.

    The MD/AD schism creates the potential for “ask your mom, ask your dad” problems. The added burden to the board is that it is now responsible for hiring and evaluating two people – and finding two people who get along very, very well.

    I would love to hear more comments from other MD/AD teams on this. I’ll be posting on this issue frequently if folks are interested in more comments.

  2. John C McGee Says:

    You raise a valid question – how do you accomplish task that frequently require many different and opposing skills set with only one person performing them. As a former executive director of a social service agency I was keenly aware that my ability to oversee programmatic activity was limited. Not because I did not want to but because my background ill prepared me for evaluating therapist who were treating children who had been sexually abused. My management background and interests enabled me to work with staff to increase the agency’s revenue, maintain a fairly flat expense chart for seven years and to expand our visibility with referring partners while improving our compliance standards and outcome measures.

    During my tenure at the agency I strongly advised my boards of directors to consider reexamining the role the executive director was expected to play in leading the agency. While I never advocated for duel positions of authority, I certainly advocated for a division of labor that would ensure that the primary functions that I was asked to fulfill could in fact be accomplished. I knew that when the agency reached its next life cycle the skills I brought to it would not meet the new and emerging demands it had.

    Creating dual and equal positions leads to an environment of who do I ask first that Chris refers and the potential clashing of egos. Creating clear division of labor and responsibility to insure appropriate programmatic oversight and accountability and resource development makes perfect sense to me

  3. Joe Hungler Says:

    Great question. I work for a youth development agency and am blessed to work for an Exec who is very creative programmaticly and also good with the critical thinking needed for measurements and understanding finances. A key for our organization was having a strong treasurer who asks the right questions and provide the board with the credibility that only a CFO can provide. I do think that an organization has to have one leader who has final authority. It is that leaders job to surround themselves with people who bring the strengths s/he does not possess.

  4. Nonprofiteer Says:

    Chris: I’m not familiar with the trend you cite toward having a single CEO supervise the artistic and managing directors–except in one notable case in Chicago where the Board’s effort to impose such supervision led to ousting the entire Board and leaving the founding team of artistic and managing directors in charge. You may be right that the dual-exec structure is more trouble than it’s worth outside the confines of the arts, but I still think it’s a way to make sure that neither the business nor the programmatic side of a nonprofit gets short shrift.

  5. Nonprofiteer Says:

    John: I think the “Who do I ask first?” question can be answered by detailed job descriptions, as they are elsewhere in the sector. (I’ve never heard of anyone’s complaining that there shouldn’t be both a CFO and a Human Resources officer just because both might have something to say about the subject of salary and benefits.) The real challenge, as you say, is to identify where the institution is in its life-cycle, and make sure it has the human resources necessary to accomplish the tasks of that phase.

  6. Nonprofiteer Says:

    Joe: You’ve put your finger on an essential component of nonprofit success, whether led by a single person or a Dual Monarchy: an active and engaged Board. If in fact the Board President has sharp enough management skills–and the time and energy to exercise them to the fullest–an agency can afford to have a program person in the ED’s chair. If not, though, the agency had better figure out a way to provide business support on the staff side, or risk having good intentions pave their proverbial road.

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