Board and staff relations - a guide Underlag till styrelsemöte 1-2 juni 1998


Status: INTERNAL Editor: Sven Bodin
Indexno: ORG 41/001/1997 Created: 02/06/97
Country: Modified: 02/12/97
Region: Category: Organization
Docdate: 97-01-31 Embargo:
Concern: Current no:
Further info: Appeals:
ICM-doc: N Identity:


Title: Board - Staff relations - guide (Reissue)


TO: Section Boards and Section Staff

27 January 1997

Dear Friends:

The attached paper on Board Staff Relations (ORG 41/02/95) was issued as an ICM paper in 1995 and formed the basis of Ljubljana Decision 44. In the meantime, of course, there will have been many changes in both board members and section staff across the movement, and some individuals now in positions of responsibility may not be familiar with this guide.

As all will recognize, the relationship between board and staff members is of critical importance. When the relationship works well, the effectiveness of our work is enhanced substantially. When relations are problematic, there is a risk that work will be set back. As noted on the cover, this paper was prepared as a guide for use throughout the movement. In reissuing the document, the IEC hopes that it will be widely distributed and its advice carefully reviewed.

With best regards,

Susan Waltz
IEC Chairperson

January 1995


Amnesty International is a movement of people and the various internal relationships are important to AI's functioning. However, because of their leadership roles the relationship between boards and staff particularly influence AI's effectiveness. Recognising the importance of these relationships AI is committed to assisting the development and strengthening of board-staff relations, building on experiences from different parts of the movement over the years.

Through a process of consultation a number of factors have been identified as being major contributors to strong board-staff relations these include:
    - definition of roles and responsibilities; and
    - clarification of the role and employment conditions of staff.
It is recognised that there are very many different situations which exist within the organisation and in the countries where AI functions. However there are some basic elements which should be common throughout the movement.

As a basis for further strengthening and developing board-staff relations the movement endorses a number of elements considered essential to such developments. Firstly, given the importance of the board in the overall functioning of sections and the movement clarity is needed about the role and responsibility of boards . Secondly, as AI employs significant numbers of staff worldwide there is a need to ensure that there are some basic conditions for all AI (paid) staff . The fact that AI is a human rights movement should be reflected in its employment practices. Thirdly, the crucial position of the "director" should be addressed via the working conditions of the director .

Recognising the ultimate autonomy of each section, the following standards have been established (and endorsed by the ICM) as advice to the entire movement.


The role and functioning of section Boards will vary greatly throughout the movement. The size of the section, as well as cultural and other considerations, may impose certain constraints on the Boards' operations. However, there are a few basic principles which should be held in common.

1.1 Mutual respect between Boards and staff (if any) is essential. Such respect is fostered by a clearly understood delineation of the responsibilities of each, preferably in writing. For example, if staff and Board members are both part of internal organisational bodies, their respective roles and authority must be made clear.

1.2 The relationship between the Board and membership are facilitated by a clear understanding of the role and functioning of the Boards. A job description for Board members should be available.

1.3 There should be guidelines, regulations or terms of reference or documentation available to all members defining the roles and responsibilities of the board and other parts of the movement and the relationships between them. Many of the issues in this paper would be addressed in this way.

1.4 In general, Boards should have responsibility for policy setting and staff for implementation of policy and day-to-day administration of Section affairs. To facilitate accountability and exchange of information the mechanisms for reporting should be clear.

1.5 Because Amnesty International is a volunteer movement, clearly Board members may also be involved in implementation. In such cases, it is crucial that the different roles and responsibilities are clearly defined. For example Board members will often have other roles within AI (e.g. coordinator of country work, the death penalty work or a group convenor), and such roles must be differentiated from their Board roles to avoid any confusion. Similarly if staff hold volunteer positions (in addition to their staff role) there needs to be differentiation of these from their staff role.

1.6 Representing Amnesty International is an important element of the movement's work and it is helpful to be clear about who is authorised to speak in the name of Amnesty International; who represents the section in the media and who deals with the home government. These should be agreed and written down.

1.7 Boards must understand and accept their role as employers. This has legal implications as well as ethical ones. Written employment standards or contracts covering conditions of employment reduce misunderstandings. In general, the director should be responsible for supervising the work of the staff. Processes for making decisions about recruitment and the creation of posts should be clearly defined.

1.8 Boards have fiscal responsibilities. This includes responsibility for raising money and overseeing how it is spent. Budgets and policy are inextricably connected. An appropriate balance between responsible monitoring and interference in staff work is hard to achieve; the issue needs to be discussed by Boards and the section director and guidelines agreed upon. Who has specific fundraising responsibilities, what sources are to be approached and who may authorise expenditure and other similar issues may be answered differently in different sections. What is important is that these issues are discussed and decisions made.

1.9 Boards must keep in touch with other members of the Section; how this is best achieved will vary from section to section. It is important that the Board establish such matters as regular meeting dates, an agenda-setting process, the delegated roles of an executive committee and other committees (if they exist), and a means for recording and reporting Board decisions. It is important that the Board accept the principle that once decisions are taken by the Board all its members have the responsibility for those decisions.

1.10 The role of Boards in relations with the International Secretariat, the International Executive Committee, other international bodies, and with other sections needs to be made clear, again preferably in writing.

1.11 The Board must recognise its accountability to the Section and to the international movement. The mechanisms for such accountability within the section should be clearly defined.

1.12 As Board members may occasionally wish to apply for paid positions with the organisation there is a need to clarify this process within the section. For example, in relation to each position being recruited there is a need to identify the significance to be given to Amnesty International volunteer experience compared with professional qualifications and other experience. It is crucial that all recruitment processes are fair to all candidates and understood to be fair.


Taking into consideration the different local labour law, size of sections, cultural and social considerations it would be impossible and inappropriate to develop standardised employment conditions. However it is important that AI fulfils its obligations as an employer in a way which is consistent with a human rights movement. Accordingly the following are recommended as general guidelines for basic conditions of all staff employed by Amnesty International:

2.1 Amnesty International must comply with the local legal obligations relating to employment, including health and safety

2.2 Staff should have a written contract (either a national labour contract or a specific one appropriate to a not-for-profit). In the case of a national contract all working conditions will be automatically covered, while a specific contract should include:
              trial (probationary) period
              period of employment
              conditions for termination
              working hours
              maternity/paternity leave
              any benefits and allowances
2.3 A job description should be given to the staff member at the time the contract is signed. The job description should indicate the level of responsibility and be a clear statement of role.

2.4 Relevant taxes, pension and social security payments should be made by the employer unless otherwise stated.

2.5 Professional training should be provided to enable staff to develop while working for AI.

2.6 The salary structure should be made clear to staff members and the process for salary reviews should also be clear to all staff. Amnesty International, as the employer, should take responsibility for a regular review of the salaries.

2.7 All employees value the opportunity to review their work and performance in their position. The organisation should therefore ensure that there are appropriate mechanisms for regular work and performance reviews for all staff.

2.8 If staff also serve as volunteers, each role should be differentiated. For example, guidelines on such issues as the role of a staff member in discussions and votes at AGMs should be agreed upon in advance and carefully followed. Whether staff or volunteers or both can or should represent the Section on standing committees and other bodies should be spelled out as should the process for section nomination and movement selection of such representatives.

2.9 Recruitment processes for the selection of staff need to be fair and be understood to be fair.


Directors have a unique position in an organisation as they are the main link between the board and staff. Often their employment conditions are different to those of other staff. Recognising the importance of the role and these differences some guidance is provided specifically for Directors. Again it should be acknowledged that different situations exist in different sections. However, there are some minimum working conditions for directors which, if guaranteed, will contribute to stability and fairness for the benefit of the entire movement. Recognising the ultimate autonomy of each section, the following standards have been established by the ICM as advice to the entire movement.


A section director should have a written contract. This contract should be signed at the beginning of the period of employment and may be changed only by mutual agreement of the signatories. The contract should contain or relate to a formal job description. The contract should make specific reference to the following (without excluding the possibility of other clauses):
    * Duration of the contract and, if time-limited, conditions for its renewal;

    * Specific conditions for the termination of the contract;

    * Rules covering working hours, overtime and holidays;

    * Salary, expense allowances and benefits;

    * If the salary is negotiated during the term of the contract, the process for this negotiation;

    * All conditions of employment that differ from those of other members of staff;

    * The eligibility of the director for official or political external posts.


A director's job description should define his/her responsibilities with regard to staff, the Board, the membership of the section and the international organisation.

The section should take a clear position on the role of the director in the preparation and implementation of policy and strategies within AI. The director should be informed of the expectations of the board (with respect to information, documentation and advice). In most sections, the director and board will share responsibility for financial and strategic planning.

Overall responsibility for action strategies and implementation should be assigned to the director within broad policy parameters determined by the board.

The director should have the principal role and responsibility for the management of staff.

The director should have key responsibility in personnel affairs. Intervention by the board in personnel affairs should be limited to grievance procedures, disciplinary appeals and the approval of personnel policy agreements, where this has been agreed as part of the role of the board.

The director should play a key role in conflict resolution within the secretariat, and between the secretariat and the section membership.

The director should be one of the leading spokespersons of the section.

The establishment of the role of the director in international relations on behalf of the section is a way of contributing to the managerial stability of the movement. This is a process which is being developed by the movement internationally, recognising the need for careful consultation with sections. However to assist this process sections should ensure that directors can attend ICMs and boards should support the involvement of the director in relevant international activities.

In all areas of responsibility the board should give support and advice to the director if requested.


Performance review or evaluation should have as its foremost purpose the creation of a learning experience through which constructive understanding of problems will lead to improvement and resolution of difficulties. Performance review offers a possibility for the board to clarify their expectations for the director's work, and an opportunity for the director to respond to those expectations. The formal institution of a performance review system provides a professional framework for this dialogue between the director and Board, which ensures that both parties can agree on goals for the period to come. At the same time, it helps avoid unfounded or anecdotal criticism. The following considerations are essential:
    * The director should remain open to evaluation and constructive criticism, whether there is a formal performance review or not;

    * Formal procedures should be established whenever possible;

    * Board evaluation should pertain to issues of direct relevance to the work of the director;

    * Negative results should lead to a distinct process for defining goals and timelines for demonstrating improvement;

    * Serious and persistent failure by the director to achieve such improvement may constitute cause for termination of the director's contract as determined by procedures contained in the contract.
These additional items are desirable in a fully matured performance review process:
    * A mechanism should be developed for at least senior staff input into the development of the Director's management skills;

    * There should be formal agreement on targets to be achieved during the coming period of review;

    * Any definition of goals for performance should be accompanied by agreed criteria for determining evaluation;

    * Performance review should be conducted through a joint process involving board members together with the director;

    * The review should preferably be on an annual basis;

    * Items for review may include evaluation of service and advice to the board, implementation of AGM and board decisions, key performance indicators of the section and implementation of the strategic plan.


In addition to the above, the following are recommended as minimum measures to improve Board/director relations:
    * The presence of the director at Board meetings should be part of his/her job description. The only exceptions should be preparatory board discussions about the director's contract or performance issues.

    * A job description for the Board as a whole and of the individual Board members (particularly for the Chair and the Treasurer) should be available. This would assist in the training of new Board members while maintaining a clear distinction between the responsibilities of directors and Boards. Board job descriptions should be made available to candidates before they stand for election.

    * Board/staff relations should be part of the training for new Board members. Board/staff relations should be explicitly evaluated by both Board and staff on a periodic basis.

    * Poor performance by staff is a major concern for both director and Board. There should be mechanisms to ensure that expectations from the board are communicated through the director, thereby confirming his/her exclusive responsibility.

Source: Amnesty International, International Secretariat,
1 Easton Street, WC1X 8DJ, London, United Kingdom