How to Build A Better Nonprofit Board: It's About the Board Chair

Yes, positioning the right person as the board chair is key. Because the chair has the greatest influence on how the board uses its time in meetings and in between meetings, who will be on the board, and who will be groomed for future leadership.

I have seen organizations rise or fall, depending on the board chair's effectiveness. Even the most extraordinary nonprofit CEO cannot achieve the enterprise's fullest potential without a good board chair.

Here's how an effective chair uses her time for the greatest benefit to the nonprofit:

  1. Understands and communicates the mission to investors and key constituents, including making the case for support.
  2. Works in partnership with the CEO to create board meeting agendas that are focused on key strategic issues, and engages board members in productive and meaningful discussions, and decision-making.
  3. Identifies and develops board members for future leadership. Leadership succession planning is vital for the organization's longer term sustainability.
  4. Works in collaboration with the Board Governance Committee and the CEO to identify and recruit new board members from diverse backgrounds and perspectives who have the experience and relationships to be valuable to the organization.
  5. Is a lead financial contributor to the organization and asks other board members for their support.
  6. Meets with each board member individually at least once a year to help each person to discover how they can be most useful.

My advice to board members, nonprofit CEOs, and funders: the most important thing you can do to help build stronger boards is to position the right people as board chairs, and then give them your fullest support. That's how to strengthen the nonprofit sector in serving our communities—regionally, nationally, and globally.

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  • Melanie Schmidt

    Right on! This is an excellent short list for anyone considering becoming a Board chair, for if they aren't prepared to do this, then perhaps they should reconsider how effective they might be in the position. It's about the culture and the expectation that grooms people toward this sort of engagement with the nonprofit's stakeholders. I would suggest the culture is important because when this type of effectiveness ebbs & flows, it can be very hard on the organization as well. Thanks for putting this information out there! @melanieschmidt

  • Jd Carr

    Great post Alice! I'm about to undertake the creation of a BOD for a new non-profit initiative we're developing and will certainly use these tips as a point of reference during the process. Thanks for the advice!

    JD Carr