Understanding Board Chair Dynamics: 10 Rules to Maximize Board Chair Success
If you have served in an executive staff position, you have extensive experience working with board chairs. These committed and dedicated individuals usually serve on volunteer boards for several years in various leadership positions before they ascend to the position of chairman or chairwoman. These leaders typically come to nonprofit organizations from all walks of life. They care deeply about the organizations they serve. Their dedication and inspiration sets the tone for the volunteer groups they lead. Your challenge as a staff executive is to maximize the performance of these volunteers.
I have worked directly with many board chairs. Each experience has been unique. Some chairs have attempted to become quasi staff members. Others have wanted each movement to be scripted. Many have left the script of their jobs in my hands.
No chair engagement has ever been the same. Many volunteer leaders liked to communicate on a frequent basis while others rarely expected contact. Some provided actions that were predictable while others were unpredictable. There is no set pattern that a board chair follows when in office. I have been fortunate that the majority of leaders I have worked with asked for my guidance to assist them in their new roles.
To maximize board chair success, follow these basic rules:
- Get to know the personality of your volunteer leaders.
- Understand the style of management that chairs like to employ.
- Determine the game plan in advance and what will be shared with volunteers.
- Review the organizational master calendar and give time expectations in advance.
- Have a written job description for the leader to review.
- Determine how the chair likes to communicate to his or her board.
- Make sure that you, your board chair and organizational president are on same page.
- Provide, in advance, dates and times when your board chair is expected to preside.
- Share ideas on how your chair should work with his/her executive committee.
- Be transparent in all dealings with your board chair.
My most rewarding experience while working with a new board chair was when he asked me on day one to help make him the best chair possible. I kept him informed and prepared to do his job in the best way. I exposed him to other organizational nonprofit board leaders and shared best-of-class contacts. We became close friends and colleagues, especially during his leadership tenure. We made changes that improved meeting agendas and board involvement in the organization.
The board chair and I worked from a written organizational/strategic plan and monitored progress along the way. Term limits were enforced, and the chair made board members accountable for the acquisition of time, talent and treasure. We both anticipated each other's needs and wants. I had tears in my eyes when his tenure ended. It is rare when you experience the relationship I had with that volunteer!
It is imperative that you understand board chair dynamics. Never take this responsibility for granted. Your organizational success as an executive depends in part on the progress of the volunteer board you help guide. Enjoy the experience, and embrace the ever-changing challenge.
Duke Haddad, Ed.D., CFRE, is currently associate director of development, director of capital campaigns and director of corporate development for The Salvation Army Indiana Division in Indianapolis. He also serves as president of Duke Haddad and Associates LLC and is a freelance instructor for Nonprofit Web Advisor.
He has been a contributing author to NonProfit PRO since 2008.
He received his doctorate degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis on education administration plus a dissertation on donor characteristics. He received a master’s degree from Marshall University with an emphasis on public administration plus a thesis on annual fund analysis. He secured a bachelor’s degree (cum laude) with an emphasis on marketing/management. He has done post graduate work at the University of Louisville.
Duke has received the Fundraising Executive of the Year Award, from the Association of Fundraising Professionals Indiana Chapter. He also was given the Outstanding West Virginian Award, Kentucky Colonel Award and Sagamore of the Wabash Award from the governors of West Virginia, Kentucky and Indiana, respectively, for his many career contributions in the field of philanthropy.