Strategic vs Operational: Understanding the Role of Boards


In the governance of not-for-profit organisations, the distinction between strategic and operational roles is critical. While both aspects are vital for the success and sustainability of an organisation, it’s essential for boards to understand where their focus should lie to ensure that they are strategically aligning the organisation with its’ intended purpose.

This blog will explore the differences between strategic and operational roles and how boards can effectively navigate their responsibilities to enhance organisational performance.


Strategic Roles: The Visionaries

The primary role of a board is to provide strategic oversight and direction. This involves setting long-term goals, establishing the organisation’s mission and vision, and ensuring that the organisation remains aligned with its core values.


Here are some key elements of strategic roles for boards:

  1. Mission and Vision: Boards are responsible for defining and regularly reviewing the mission and vision statements. These statements guide the organisation’s purpose and aspirations, ensuring that all activities align with its fundamental goals.
  2. Long-Term Planning: Strategic planning involves setting long-term objectives and determining the resources and actions required to achieve them. Boards should focus on forecasting future trends, assessing potential risks, and identifying opportunities for growth and development.
  3. Policy Development: Establishing policies that provide a framework for the organisation’s operations is a crucial strategic role. These policies help maintain consistency, transparency, and accountability across all levels of the organisation.
  4. Oversight and Accountability: Boards must ensure that the organisation adheres to legal and ethical standards. This includes financial oversight, compliance with regulations, and monitoring the performance of the executive team.
  5. Stakeholder Engagement: Engaging with stakeholders, including donors, members, and the community, is vital for building trust and securing support. Boards should develop strategies for effective communication and collaboration with these groups.


Operational Roles: The Doers

Operational roles involve the day-to-day management and execution of the organisation’s activities. While these tasks are essential, they are typically the responsibility of the executive team and staff rather than the board.

Key operational duties include:

  1. Program Implementation: Executing the programs and services that fulfil the organisation’s mission. This involves managing resources, staff, and volunteers to ensure successful delivery.
  2. Fundraising and Financial Management: Managing the organisation’s finances, including budgeting, accounting, and fundraising efforts. Staff are responsible for executing fundraising campaigns and managing donor relations.
  3. Administrative Tasks: Handling the administrative functions necessary for the organisation’s operation, such as human resources, IT, and facilities management.
  4. Performance Management: Supervising and evaluating staff performance to ensure that operational goals are met. This includes providing training, support, and resources for staff development.
  5. Operational Decision-Making: Making decisions related to the day-to-day activities and operations of the organisation. This requires a hands-on approach and immediate problem-solving skills.


Balancing Strategic and Operational Roles

While the distinction between strategic and operational roles is clear, there can be overlap, especially in smaller not-for-profit organisations. However, it is crucial for boards to maintain a strategic focus and avoid becoming overly involved in operational tasks.

Here are some strategies to achieve this balance:

  1. Clear Role Definitions: Clearly define the roles and responsibilities of the board and executive team. This helps prevent role confusion and ensures that everyone understands their scope of work.
  2. Effective Delegation: Delegate operational tasks to the executive team and trust them to manage day-to-day activities. Boards should focus on providing support and resources rather than micromanaging.
  3. Regular Reviews: Conduct regular reviews of the organisation’s strategic plan and operational performance. This helps ensure alignment and allows for adjustments as needed.
  4. Communication and Collaboration: Foster open communication and collaboration between the board and executive team. This helps build a strong working relationship and ensures that strategic and operational goals are aligned.
  5. Training and Development: Invest in training and development for both board members and staff. This ensures that everyone has the skills and knowledge required to fulfil their roles effectively.


How We Can Assist

At The Breakthrough Office, we specialise in assisting not-for-profit organisations navigate the complexities of governance. Our services include CFO, Corporate Secretarial, and operational support to ensure that your organisation thrives. Whether you need assistance with developing a forecast, enhancing board effectiveness, or managing day-to-day operations, our team is here to support.

Contact us today to learn more about how we can partner with your organisation to journey towards success.

By understanding and respecting the distinctions between strategic and operational roles, boards can provide effective leadership and guidance, ensuring the long-term sustainability and impact of their organisations.

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