October 7, 2013

What do you think of this description for the board chair’s role? Dean (Cohort 22 at Saint Mary’s University) and I drafted this together.

Here’s how we begin: The primary role of the board chair is to facilitate the governance process. While the board chair has no more power than any other board, he or she – along with the CEO – is ultimately responsible for ensuring that the integrity of the governance process is maintained in all board proceedings.

But upon further reflection: Do I really think the board chair is primarily responsible for good governance? Actually, I think it is the board’s role to ensure good governance. And the board chair helps facilitate that process.

Then Dean and I came up with various functional areas, e.g., interpersonal, operational, and community.

1. Interpersonal functions of the board chair

  • Empowers all board members and board committees.
  • Empowers the administration to work enthusiastically in support of mission. (Hmmm… Really? Or is that mostly the CEO’s role?)
  • Ensures board members and the board (as a group) feels a deep commitment to mission and community. (Hmmm… Commitment is really an individual thing. Internal motivation. The board chair and CEO can certainly help. But ultimately, the individual is responsible for his or her own commitment and performance.)
  • Ensures that board members feel valued and respected. (The board chair can help. But each person has to value and respect others.)

2. Operational functions

  • Facilitates effective meetings.
  • With the CEO, creates the board meeting agenda.
  • With the CEO, appoints committee chairs and appoints board members to various committees.
  • Serves ex-officio on all committees but is not required (nor expected!) to attend all meetings.

3. Community

  •  Supports and advocates for the organization and its leadership team.
  • Demonstrates leadership in fundraising
And here are some other miscellaneous thoughts: The board chair has voice but no more authority than any other board member. The board chair is a leader by virtue of her/his elected position. More importantly, s/he demonstrates leadership by virtue of character.
Has your board talked about the role and skills and behaviors desired in the board chair? Does your governance committee talk about all this – in order to find nominate the best board chair possible?
How might life change in your organization – and within the board – if you all talked about the role of the board chair – and the expectations?

About Simone Joyaux

A consultant specializing in fund development, strategic planning, and board development, Simone P. Joyaux works with all types and sizes of nonprofits, speaks at conferences worldwide, and teaches in the graduate program for philanthropy at Saint Mary’s University, MN. Her books, Keep Your Donors and Strategic Fund Development, are standards in the field.

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