Sunday, July 3, 2016

Five Tips for Board Chairs

An engaged, committed board chair who works (and plays) well with staff and board members can be instrumental in nurturing an active, thriving, happy, and healthy nonprofit. Here's what a good board chair can do:
  • Set the tone: Lead the way by doing your homework and coming prepared for meetings. Use meeting time wisely with a focus on mission, governance, fiscal oversight, and policy.
  • Run good meetings: Be sure to establish clear meeting guidelines and stick to them - including civility, punctuality, and respect for everyone's opinions. Stick to the agenda, but leave some time for jokes and personal connection. And one of your most important jobs is to assure that everyone seated at the table has a chance to be heard. You can do this by going around the table; making sure to check in with those who haven't spoken; and/or gently but firmly restraining your most loquacious contributors.
  • Set an example: If you want respectful dialogue, be sure you yourself are always respectful, no matter how difficult conversations become. If you want your board to participate actively in fundraising, you need to lead the way by making a significant donation, identifying and soliciting major donors, and participating actively at all major organizational events.
  • Make your board the best it can be: Establish a thorough orientation process so all new board members know what their job actually entails.Be sure board members read - and truly understand your fiscal reports. Because board composition changes, often from year to year, you can't just do this once - you need to take time annually to review board roles and responsibilities. Above all, gently remind (i.e. nag) board members to follow-through on their commitments. And when a board member doesn't show up or isn't a good fit, gently but firmly suggest it's time for them to move on.
  • Work collaboratively with your Executive Director: Meet and talk regularly with your ED, discussing issues and brainstorming solutions. But note that your job is to support and work with the ED, not micro-manage programs. Most importantly, develop a constructive process to evaluate the ED annually, with a focus on ways you can continue to work together to support your good work.
Over the 37 years I was an ED, I worked with many board chairs, with a wide diversity of personal style and experience and impact. One of them helped me navigate a successful capital campaign, with fundraising on a scale I had never done before. Another was instrumental in getting the board to approve reasonable salaries and benefits for staff. And another created a procedure for annual performance reviews that helped me both learn to be better ED and celebrated my successes. All of them became lifelong friends

Good leadership: good for your organization, good for your soul.

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