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Become a highly effective nonprofit board chair in 7 steps (Boston Herald)

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The Boston Herald recently published a useful article in their Women’s Business News section by Elka T. Sachs titled Become a highly effective nonprofit board chair in seven steps. Here are her 7 areas to focus on with a few of my thoughts. Be sure to read her article

  1. Meetings – From my experience working in and with nonprofits as an executive and consultant this is one area that can really improve the effectiveness of the organization. Although directors may be passionate about the nonprofit’s mission, they often have limited time to devote to it because they are busy business people and community leaders. Often too much time is spent reporting what’s happened rather than what lies ahead. In order to address this issue, reports should be written and circulated before meetings giving the board ample time to review the organization’s progress against it’s plan. If you can devote the bulk of the meeting to forward focused discussion and decisionmaking rather than historic reporting, you should notice a remarkable improvement in advancing your organization’s mission.  
  2. The board – If the nonprofit board is an orchestra, then the board chair is the conductor. The chair’s primary responsibility is to lead the orchestra not play the music.
  3. The CEO – One of the most challenging components of nonprofit governance can be creating a strong relationship between part-time volunteer leadership (the board) and full time paid leadership (the executive director and staff) but it’s absolutely essential. Like any strong relationship, there should be clear and frequent communication, a willingness to compromise on nonmaterial issues and a demonstration of mutual respect.
  4. Oversight, compliance – I really liked how Sachs talked about the board chair setting the “standard” and “tone” in this section. It’s always best to “walk the walk.” 
  5. The face – This can manifest itself in many different ways; however, it is absolutely imperative that the board chair advance the mission of the organization in the community at every opportunity available. 
  6. Reviews and assessments – This is an often overlooked and/or avoided activity of the board. In my 6 years as an executive director of an international nonprofit I received one performance evaluation despite regular requests at and between board meetings. The nature of the relationship between the volunteer and paid leaders in the organization make it critical that everyone be on the same page. Too often this task is not given the attention it deserves and the nonprofit suffers for it. Give this your attention today.
  7. Strategic planning – One of the most important tasks the board chair does is to make sure the organization is prepared for the future. Making sure the board does not get mired in the day to day operations of the organization is critical. Leading and managing a strategic planning process will help increase the probability of long term sustainability and mission delivery.

Finally, Sachs talks a bit about succession of both the executive and the board chair. The board chair role is very demanding so planning for a smooth, predictable succession is of paramount importance. Balancing leadership continuity with the opportunity to introduce fresh ideas and energy is a desired outcome for all high performing nonprofit organizations.

The article author, Elka T. Sachs is a partner with Krokidas & Bluestein. She counsels a broad spectrum of nonprofit, for-profit and public entities, including charter schools, affordable housing developers, health and human service providers and privately held businesses.

About the author

Peter A. Mello, Founder/Editor Founder of Weekly Leader and Sea-Fever Consulting, LLC, a leadership development and strategic communications consultancy. Previously, CEO of an international nonprofit organization and COO of a national insurance/risk management services firm. Peter has been leading people and managing organizations for over 30 years, writes a leadership column for MarineNews magazine and blogs about maritime culture at Sea-Fever. Follow him on Twitter.

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