Board chairs have a tough job. Being elected the board chair comes with lots of responsibilities. We know that the board chair presides at the meetings, prepares the meeting agenda with the chief executive, appoints the chairs of the committees and task forces, and makes sure that the organization is following its bylaws, policies and procedures. What about the parts of the job that are not so obvious? The board chair soon finds that there are a variety of other “assignments” that come with the job and require additional time and energy. Here are some of the other board chair responsibilities.
A cooperative relationship with the chief executive is an important part of board chair responsibilities. It develops over time. Meetings with the chief executive often happen more than the once-a-month update and preparation of the agenda for the board meeting. The board chair often fills the role of trusted advisor to the chief executive. Mentoring the chief executive and serving as a sounding board for work in progress is especially important when the chief executive is new to the role.
“Walking the talk” in connecting the nonprofit to donors and sponsors encourages other board members to do the same. Development staff may ask the board chair to go along on a fundraising visit to a foundation or major donor. The participation of the board chair is often appreciated in telling the story of the nonprofit’s good work. This helps to communicate the dedication of the volunteers responsible for the governance of the nonprofit.
It is wise for the board chair to get to know each board member individually. Building relationships with others on the board creates trust and discussions are more open. It can be as simple as having a conversation over coffee. Additionally, when a board member is not attending meetings, it is one of the board chair responsibilities to contact the person. Having a difficult conversation about attendance is easier when the board chair knows the member well.
The board chair is generally an ex-officio member of committees and task forces. Attending a meeting now and then can help to reinforce the importance of the job at hand. It’s also a good way to nudge committees and task forces that may not be meeting as often as they should.
Occasionally, the board chair should ask for feedback on board meetings. It can be as simple as having members write down suggestions on post-it notes to leave at the door as they leave the meeting. It’s very simple to compile those suggestions and bring them to the board’s next meeting for discussion. Board chair responsibilities include improving meeting practices and member participation.
The board chair makes sure that the chief executive officer is evaluated each year. Assigning it to the governance committee and making sure that it is done is important. Likewise, the board should assess its operations at least every other year with a formal assessment.
Most of these things are not difficult, but all of them involve time. The chair of the board spends time working for the organization by building strong rapport with the chief executive, assisting in fundraising, following up with other board members and committees on assignments and making sure that the nonprofit is following its bylaws, policies and procedures. These “other duties as assigned” are vital to the health of the nonprofit and can be a source of pride for a great board chair.
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