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Learning patterns/Division of tasks and responsibilities between board, staff and volunteers

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Division of tasks and responsibilities between board, staff and volunteers
problemWhen Wikimedia chapters decide to hire staff, the question arises who is responsible for what. Unclarity can lead to problems, frustration and conflicts.
solutionDevelop a clear framework for each process within the organisation, specifying step by step who decides, who implements and who monitors.
created on14:55, 26 March 2015 (UTC)

What problem does this solve?


Often, Wikimedia chapters operate successfully as volunteer organisations for several years before they decide to set up an office and hire staff, including an ED. This means that the chapter and the volunteers active on the Board have become accustomed to doing things in a specific way. Usually, the organisation is small enough for everyone on the Board to be aware of/involved in all major decisions. All this changes when an office is set up. An organisation can't function efficiently if every step, every decision has to be individually cleared by the Board. Delegation of responsibillities and mandate of authority from Board to Executive Director and other staff becomes necessary.

What is the solution?


It is worth the time and effort to draw up a clear description of responsibilties and tasks very early in the process of setting up an office. This is more than the job description of staffmembers or the division of portfolios in the Board. At Wikimedia Nederland we decided to make an inventory of all the processes that were going to take place within our organisation, and step by step look at who should be involved when.

First, we identified who within Wikimedia Nederland is involved in decision making:

  • The Annual General Meeting of Members (AGM) is the highest and final decision taking organ of the association
  • Board Members, some of whom have a specific role and responsibility: President, Secretary, Treasurer, and/or have responsibility for a specific portfolio such as community relations or GLAM.
  • Executive Director of Wikimedia Nederland. The ED is appointed by the Board.
  • Staff members. Selected by the Director and formally appointed by the Board.
  • Volunteers

Then we identified some 40 different processes taking place. Some processes are day to day routine, such as ordering office supplies. Others occur only once a year (submitting a grant application) or less (hiring a new ED). These tasks we clustered into 4 groups.

  • Finance - including fundraising and reporting on grants
  • Communication - including media and community relations
  • Human resources
  • Organization - including strategy development and planning, General Assemblies and office management.

We matched these tasks with 3 different roles.

  • Responsible for preparation of a decision: person making the draft/proposal
  • Executive responsibility: person/body whose job/portfolio it is to formally submit the proposal to the decision makers
  • Decision making authority: person/body whose approval is eeded to make it official

For the process hiring a staff member we got the following breakdown:

  • Director decides if it is necessary and possible to hire (additional) staff, , within the boundaries of the annual plan and budget (Board of trustees) and the current workload.
  • Job description prepared by the director, in consultation with board member HR and/or specialized volunteers.
  • Job description published by director.
  • Ad hoc selection committee appointed: director, board member HR, volunteer.
  • Selection process itself: first selection made by director.
  • 1st round and 2nd round of interviews with applicants by the selection committee.
  • The selection committee comes to a recommendation of one or two preferred candidates. Final choice made by the director.
  • Terms and conditions discussed with candidate by the director, within the boundaries of the term and conditions established by the board of governors
  • Formal contract with candidate signed by two Board members, usually board member HR and treasurer

In summary

  • Preparation: director
  • Responsibility: board member HR
  • Decision: director

For human resources/staff this analysis lead to the following template:

Preparation of decision Executive responsibility Formal decision making notes
General terms and conditions of employment Director Board member HR Board
Recruitment and selection process Director Board member HR Director Except for the Executive position itself were decision making lies with the Board
Staff Appointments Director 2 board members
Assessments Director Director
Training and coaching Director Director
Day to day office operations Director
Executive position Director Board member HR Board

The full Responsibilities and mandate structure of Wikimedia Nederland can be found on the WMNL- wiki.

Things to consider

  • The basis of the whole system is trust. Trust that people are competent, trust in good faith, trust that people care for the organization. And trust also that people know when they have to report back about the activities undertaken. You cannot develop a framework that covers all eventualities.
  • Next to trust there is 'control'. With transparent frameworks it is not hard to set clear guidelines for reporting and control cycles. It demands also form the ‘higher level’ the willingness to intervene when things might to go wrong.
  • Different countries will have different legal and accounting requirements. These have to be taken into consideration when developing this framework.
  • Review yearly to see whether everything still works as it should.
  • It requires some time and energy to analyse all the processes and develop the framework. At Wikimedia Nederland we found it worth the effort. The discussions in the Board while preparing the framework created clarity and consensus about how the Board saw its role and how we were going to operate. Whenever important decisions came up later, we did not have to hold long debates on process and individual roles, because we already had a framework.

When to use

  • When setting up the organisation, or when an organisation needs to be reviewed
  • When introducing new staff and boardmembers to the organisation
  • To provide proof of good governance to auditors



See also