Effective Board Chair Leadership

By Karen Lehman October 24, 2023

A successful board chair is resilient, communicative, and consistently holds up the faith and values of the organization.

Board service is truly a labor of love for the nonprofit that you serve. One of the highest forms of this commitment is to serve in the board chair role. The chair is the diplomatic leader of an organization’s most influential volunteers: board members. The chair’s ability to lead this group sets the tone for meetings, the board/staff partnership, and the dynamics of board culture for years to come. A successful board chair is resilient, communicative, and consistently holds up the faith and values of the organization.

An effective board chair knows and understands the foundational documents of the organization such as its mission, vision, values, history, bylaws, board policies, financial goals and benchmarks, regulatory policies, and the programs and services being delivered.

Along with the chair’s positive working relationship with the board, it is the chair who is accountable for an effective relationship with the CEO.  The chair ensures that the CEO has a clear understanding of the expectations of the board in terms of the goals and strategic direction of the organization. In turn, the chair ensures that the CEO’s questions and concerns are communicated appropriately to the board.

Planning and preparation tools and techniques that can support a chair’s role include an annual board work plan that outlines all issues and tasks to be addressed in the fiscal year, scheduled accordingly by the meeting date.  A good annual board calendar/plan makes setting individual meeting agendas easier and ensures all critical board work is scheduled within the year.  Typically, items in the work plan will include, but are not limited to, the annual audit, the CEO evaluation, a board assessment, board member appointments, officer appointments, conflict of interest statements, policy review, committee meetings and assignments, board education, an annual retreat, and bylaw review.

An effective board chair will encourage ongoing board development: recruitment, orientation, and integration of new members following the board’s succession plan.

The board’s responsibility is to ensure that the mission and vision of the organization are always at the forefront of all the board’s work.  It is the chair who leads by example and serves as a role model for all board members.

The board’s role is serious and has deep implications for the life and health of an organization.  Done well, the chair role can provide a sense of great satisfaction and accomplishment.  Enjoy the role, have lighthearted times, celebrate milestones and special events, and make sure to maintain a healthy work and life balance while giving and serving in this important way.

Interested in learning more? Contact MHS Association to talk with a staff member about the resources available to enhance board chair leadership.