Role of the Board Chair

All Volume 1 Issue 3Role of the Board Chair


The board chair of a nonprofit organisation is in a tough position…the post is unpaid, authority is expressed through persuasion rather than command and the meetings they run are supposed to be productive and not sleep inducing. The following is a checklist for anyone considering jumping in the deep end and chairing a board.

  1. The ceremonial function versus the real role. A chairperson has to be willing to “show the flag” which means attending social function or speaking publicly to describe or defend the organisation. However the most important job is bringing order and purpose to the boardroom.
  2. Conduct meetings. The responsibility for making meetings effective falls heavily on the chairperson. They must not only seen to be in control of the meeting but also actively do so by being well informed about the agenda and ensuring board members are able to freely express their views.
  3. Lead by example. There are few inducements available to the chair to influence the behaviour of the board, ignoring the gossip and focusing cheerfully on the good is one way of setting a good example.
  4. Deal with people individually. The skilful chairperson has some idea of the interests of each board member. For example, knowing that one board member has a particular interest in one of the programs because of an event in his personal life or asking two other board members to work on a project together because they share similar interests is the “good oil” in board relationships.
  5. Lecturing a board about its duties will simply turn people off. People participate best when they are interested or challenged not when they are made to feel guilty. The first step is to arouse their interest.
  6. Relationship with the CEO. This can become a persistently tense relationship -the possibility for friction always exists. Who conducts which meetings? Who speaks for the organisation? It really is a matter of learning to deal with each other’s style, preferences and temperament. On the hand, having too close a relationship with the CEO can blur the accountability required in this relationship and alienate both staff and other board members.
  7. Lead the board. Organisations are like people, they can run out of energy and lose direction. A good chairperson can re-energise an organisation and excite board members to accept challenges, which might otherwise be ignored.
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