Donors, Lay Leaders, and Staff … Who is in charge? (Where is the “fine line”?)

A question that my co-workers and I sometimes struggle with is where exactly is the “fine line” of who is in charge/who has final say between donors/lay leaders and staff.

From what I have seen in my experience, the non-profit world tries (with good intentions) to blend both lay leadership and staff, in order to achieve a balance. But sometimes I think this can be ineffective. Staff members can be made to feel that they have several “bosses”(their actual boss and then each lay leader they work with, who thinks that s/he is the boss). And what happens when the opinion of the actual “boss” and the lay leader/donor conflict? It can leave the staff member in a very uncomfortable situation. I think that all jobs have office politics, but non-profit seems to have even more so. You have to keep everyone happy. You have to keep your boss happy (so you keep your job!), you have to keep your donors happy (so your organization can continue), etc.

Is it ever OK to say “no” to a donor? To what extent do we as non-profit employees have the right to set our own schedules? On the one hand, as I mentioned in my first post, I feel like the best way to be efficient and productive is to be as proactive as possible, and having the ability to set one’s schedule gives you this possibility. However, donors and/or lay leaders often feel that they have the right to call up/drop by and make immediate demands. Do they have this right? Maybe they do. We want to keep them happy. But for the overall running of the organization, I think it could be detrimental. What do you think?

Chava Ashkenazi

Jerusalem, Israel

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