What I want from my board chair

I have the good fortune of facilitating a monthly conversation with a group of first-time and relatively new nonprofit executive directors. After the first meeting, I asked them to identify topics on which we could focus future discussion. Not surprisingly (at least to me), the top choice was “the board and executive director relationship—effective relationships and setting expectations.”

In the meeting that followed, we identified that in order to be successful the relationship between the board and the executive director needs to be a true partnership—professionals working together to ensure mutual success and satisfaction. While a successful partnership requires a team effort, it is the “team captain,” the board chair, who plays a pivotal role. The chair has primary responsibility for managing this relationship, but far too often he or she fails to give this the attention it requires.

So I asked this group of nonprofit leaders to tell me what they would like from their board chair, and here are their responses:

  • Take a leadership role in ensuring that we are successfully and strategically recruiting new board members
  • Take the lead on ensuring we have active committees with clearly described tasks and roles
  • Check-in from time-to time to ask how I’m doing…to signal to me that you care about me as a person and as a leader
  • Be there when I need you…respond quickly to my calls or messages when I need your help
  • Read, review, and respond to the materials and communications I send
  • Help me develop the agenda for our board meetings
  • Have the difficult conversations that are sometimes necessary with other board members (those who haven’t been attending meetings, monopolize discussions, etc.)
  • Prepare for meetings and do your best to facilitate meetings that stay on-track and on-time
  • Communicate clear expectations regarding what you want and expect from me (and ask me to do the same for you)
  • In addition to an annual review, give me ongoing feedback to let me know how I’m doing
  • Be the “inspirer in chief,” encouraging engagement by board members and being a leader both in and out of the board room
  • Ensure that the board follows through on their fundraising and annual giving commitments
  • Help ensure clarity of roles and responsibilities, reminding board members when they stray into trying to do my job

Board chairs, I encourage you to review the list and identify where you might be falling short and what deserves discussion with your executive director. Executive directors, I encourage you to share this list with your board chair and schedule a meeting to discuss the items that are most important to you. It will take a team effort, but together you can build a successful partnership that is good for you AND for your organization.

For additional information, please contact Jeff Wahlstrom at (207) 992-4407 or send him an e-mail message at [email protected].