COVID-19: Leadership Roles – CEO, Board Chair, and Board Members

COVID-19: Leadership Roles – CEO, Board Chair, and Board Members

As the wave of COVID-19 continues to rock our economy, the stress of dealing with everchanging regulations, staffing and benefit concerns, organizational funding, and more has been overwhelming. Organizational management and Boards have always grappled on where to draw the line with respect to their responsibilities, but now more than ever, it is important for each member of leadership to understand its role in order to be able to effectively navigate the myriad of issues that the pandemic has thrust upon organizations.

The Role of a Chief Executive Chair (CEO)/Executive Director (ED)

As the CEO/ED of an organization, these are some things that you should focus on in the COVID-19 environment:

  • Understand the risk of COVID-19 to your staff and make appropriate operational, safety, and even fiscal adjustments where necessary;
  • Understand the financial impact of COVID-19 on both a short-term and long-term basis and develop a plan to cope with these impacts;
  • Engage with your donors on how they can help you through the COVID-19 crisis. Too many donors are not considering the impact that organizations are feeling due to the pandemic, so you need to take the time to discuss with them your organizational needs;
  • Clearly communicate your needs, concerns, and potential organizational risks to the Board Chair. Remember, you are in the trenches, she/he is not, so it is more important than ever to keep the lines of communication open;
  • Get the Board to both understand and support your major business strategies. It’s important for everyone within the organization to be on the same page, especially in light of some of the really difficult decisions that need to be made for many organizations;
  • Enlist the help of your board members in their area of expertise. For instance, someone with a fiscal background on your Board should be able to help you navigate the PPP loan application or other relief programs made available by the government; and
  • Establish clear priorities for the organization during the current crisis, including the consideration of Who needs the Organization’s services? How can we continue to effectively meet the Organization’s mission? How will we get funded for such services? What staff are necessary and who should be furloughed or terminated? What’s the cost of my decision? What new regulations are out there and how are we staying on top of changing regulations? How do we continue to monitor service and quality? And many more questions.

The Role of the Board Chair

As the Board Chair these are some things that you should focus on in the COVID-19 environment:

  • Keep open active lines of communication with your CEO/ED. Things are changing rapidly, and people are feeling completely isolated. It is important to have regular communications with your CEO/ED so that important issues can be vetted and appropriate decisions can be made;
  • There is a lot of information flying around on the organization’s management can be overwhelmed. Don’t add to the stress of what’s happening within the organization. By all means, you should be making sure that the hard questions are being asked and considered, but make sure you work collaboratively with your organization’s management, and don’t just fire off orders and solutions without understanding management’s plan first;
  • We are finding that there are more questions than answers these days, which is completely adding to the stress of running a nonprofit. Executive management is on the front line making difficult decisions and they need the help of the Board to help with these decisions and provide much needed guidance. Make sure that the Board understands that they need to be there to support the CEO/ED;
  • Do not micromanage. Let the CEO/ED do the job you hired them to do. The goal, as stated above, is to meet regularly and make sure you are staying connected so you understand the issues and provide guidance and insight where necessary;
  • Communicate with your Board on plans or contingencies. We are hearing that many organizations are laying off staff, discontinuing programs, etc. All of these require a nimbleness that doesn’t often come with organizational boards. For the short-term, you need to cut through the red tape a little faster; and
  • Organizational funding is more important today than ever before. Be innovative in advocating to donors and don’t push the responsibility for funding on management. This is a Board-wide responsibility.

These are difficult times, and many businesses and nonprofits are going to look a lot different post the pandemic. Those organization whose leadership teams come together to focus on what’s best for the organization’s they lead, have a better chance of pulling through with lower levels of disruption.

For more Coronavirus updates and resources, click here.

If you would like to learn more about this topic, please contact:

Shari Diamond, CIA

Shari Diamond, CIA


Shari has been with Cerini & Associates, LLP since 2008 where she works primarily with the firm’s school district clients providing internal audit and claims audit services. She has over twenty years’ experience performing internal audits, risk assessments, and compliance reviews, as well as recommending processes to strengthen the internal controls environment while increasing efficiencies. Her prior experience at PWC and Northrop Grumman included performing Information Technology audits.


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