Board Chair: The Compass of the Nonprofit Board

Board members come in all shapes and sizes and with diverse backgrounds, but the roles and responsibilities assumed by those chosen to lead are remarkably similar between nonprofit boards. Learning about the nonprofit board chair description can help you decide if this is the right position for you, or help you select the right candidate for the role.

nonprofit board chair person

Chair, Chairperson, President?

The title used for the role doesn’t matter as much as the responsibilities, but should be defined and consistent. The person who fulfills this role for your nonprofit needs to be able to command respect, encourage action in others, and fully support the vision of your organization. He or she also needs to be able to make tough decisions and eventually help select his or her own replacement.

This is a big role, requiring more commitment than some of the other board positions in your organization. According to the National Council of Nonprofits, your board chair sets the tone for your entire brand. A few key qualities ensure they provide the essential direction and assistance your nonprofit needs to thrive.

RELATED: 4 Keys to Nonprofit Board Member Orientation

Nonprofit Board Chair Description

The first and primary role of a board chair is to be the leader of the group. She or he listens to others, provides guidance, and thinks strategically about the future of the organization. This may require being in turn a teacher, mentor, coach and even a mediator. The board chair sets the tone for the entire team and ensures that the nonprofit flourishes under their leadership.

What does a Board Chair Do?

Depending on the type and focus of a nonprofit, a board chairperson may have the following responsibilities:

  • Facilitate board meetings and keep things moving
  • Motivate and encourage other members to actively participate and attend meetings
  • Ensure the actions taken are in line with the organization’s bylaws, goals and mission
  • Serve as a primary point of contact for the organization’s key executives, staff members and team
  • Provide insight as needed and ensure other members are on the appropriate committees and projects
  • Assist in welcoming and onboarding new members and in successful transitions
  • Lead fundraising efforts by example and with active participation
  • Speak to the press, media, or other groups and represent the organization
  • Mediate personality conflicts and disputes between board members

There is a reason why board chairs are often experienced, accomplished business people in their own right. The skills needed to run a successful business can also be applied to board management.

Working with the Organization Staff

The Chair of the Board and the Chief Executive Officer often work closely together to ensure that organizational goals are met. They also help steer the direction of the nonprofit and contribute their own time and talents as needed. For this relationship to work, the communication between c-suite staffers and the board chair needs to be open and regular. The better this key relationship is, the more the nonprofit will benefit. Obviously, a chair that can communicate well is a huge advantage for any nonprofit.


A board chair usually has the same voting rights as other board members. Some choose to vote regularly, while others only vote if needed to break a tie.

Planning Succession

One of the most commonly overlooked duties of a board chair is selecting their own replacement. If the chair has been actively recruiting strong members with leadership skills, there will be a number of candidates to choose from. Since board chairmanships only last for a set period of time, the chair should create opportunity and mentor other potential leaders for the benefit of the organization.

While the board chairperson is the official leader, every member has a role to play and can contribute to the success of the organization. The right chair for your nonprofit will bring out the best in others and move your organization forward throughout their term.

RELATED: CASE STUDY: Maricopa County Workforce Development Board

Interested in how to make your board of directors more productive through the effective use of technology? Boardable is a software platform that centralizes all communication between you and your board. Find the best meeting times, securely store all of your documents, archive discussion threads and more—all in one place. Click below to schedule a demo with a member of our Boardable team.

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