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The Role Of The Board Chair

Board Chair Basics: What Does It Take To Be the Best?


You’ve been appointed board chair, and you want to be the best in that role, but what does that take? It involves going beyond being a meeting facilitator and truly being the leader of the board. To succeed in that, the board chair must understand nonprofit board chair responsibilities and do their best to fulfill them.

To that end, we’re highlighting the following board chair basics:

  1. What is a board chair?
  2. Responsibilities of the board chair
  3. Differentiating the board chair vs. executive director
  4. Board chair tips for conducting board meetings
  5. 9 traits of a superior board chairperson
  6. How embracing technology eases chair of the board responsibilities

What Is a Board Chair?

Simply put, a board chair, also known as a board chairperson, is the leader of the board. The board chair has all the same rights and responsibilities as other board members including voting rights.

The board members generally vote on who should serve as board chair. The person who fills the role of board chair in a nonprofit may also serve as the board president, but that’s not always the case.

The board chair must be familiar with Robert’s Rules of Order or whatever parliamentary procedure the bylaws call for as it serves as a guideline for how to handle motions during meetings. The best place to store a copy of Robert’s Rules of Order or your nonprofit’s parliamentary procedures is in your board management system.

Responsibilities of the Board Chair

The role of the board chair encompasses a variety of important responsibilities. The other board members look to the board chair to guide them and set a positive, energized tone for meetings.

Since the board chair has so many important responsibilities, the existing board chair often mentors another board member during their term to prepare a consecutive board chair to one day take their place.

An effective board chair is proficient in the following areas:


As the leader of the board, the board chair is the main contact person for other board members and must be available when board members need them. The chair takes board meeting attendance and encourages all board members to actively participate in meetings.


The board chair works collaboratively with the executive director and the secretary to establish meeting agendas. The agenda should include the purpose of the meeting and the items for discussion. The agenda provides a structure for the meeting, helps the board chair control the meeting efficiently, and ensures the board is productive.

Meeting Management

The board chair presides over the board and executive committee meetings and calls special meetings as necessary. Using the agenda as a guide, the board chair moves the board towards decision-making and closes the meeting on time.

Committee Direction

Working jointly with the executive director, the board chair recommends committee chairs for board approval. The board chair also serves as an ex-officio member of all committees.

Relationship with the Executive Director

The board chair has a key relationship with the executive director that is built on mutual trust and respect. The executive director relies on the board chair to help with emerging issues or potential problems and they collaborate on board agenda topics.

Executive Director Performance Appraisal

The entire board is responsible for conducting an annual executive director performance appraisal, and the board chair takes the lead.  Normally, the board chair appoints a committee for this purpose and sets the timeline and parameters for the committee to complete its work.

Board Conduct

By modeling, articulating, and upholding the rules of conduct as outlined in the bylaws, the board chair sets a high standard for how the rest of the board behaves. The board chair also addresses issues regarding confidentiality, conflict of interest, and other pertinent board policies.

Board Learning and Development

Board education and development are important to strengthening the board. The board chair takes a lead role in recruiting and developing new board members. The board chair also looks for opportunities for continuing education for board members to develop their individual or collective skill sets.

Succession Planning

An important duty of a newly appointed board chair is to identify and recruit a potential candidate to follow them in succession. This is an important step that ensures board continuity and a smooth transition toward future board leadership. The board chair mentors the chair-elect in conducting their duties.

Board Self-Evaluations

Annually, the board chair coordinates a process for board self-evaluation and implements recommendations for improvement. Part of this process involves getting feedback on his or her performance as board chair.

Differentiating the Board Chair vs. Executive Director

While both the board chair and executive director have some level of authority, their duties and responsibilities are exceedingly different.

The executive director is responsible for the day-to-day operations – hiring staff, assigning volunteers, overseeing programs and activities, and managing the budget.

By contrast, the board chair is not involved in administration or managing people at all. The board chair is the board’s leader. In that role, the board chair runs board meetings, sets up the annual strategic planning meeting, and serves as an overseer for the organization along with the rest of the board.

The board chair and the executive director both have very important roles in a nonprofit, and they must work closely together to ensure they’re on the same page. The board needs continual information about what’s happening in the organization, and the executive director is the hands-on person who fulfills the board’s expectations, and ultimately the nonprofit’s vision.

Board Chair Tips for Conducting Board Meetings

The key to an effective board meeting is preparation. Many nonprofits utilize executive committee meetings where the board’s officers determine which items should be on the agenda and which can wait. The board chair can then develop an appropriate agenda, finalize the board books, and make sure the board members are prepared to actively participate in the meeting.

The following tips are helpful for conducting board meetings:

  1. Use executive sessions as a steering committee to prioritize agenda topics.
  2. Set a realistic agenda that enables the board to address all agenda items within the designated time limit.
  3. Use board management software to create board books, take minutes, share calendars, and more.
  4. Communicate with board members before the meeting to ensure they’re prepared.
  5. Send out notifications of follow-ups to be sure board members address them before the meeting.
  6. Set time limitations for each agenda item and stick to them.
  7. Engage all board members in discussions.
  8. Thank the board members for their time and adjourn on time.

While tips for conducting meetings are useful, certain traits and attributes combine to describe a superior board chairperson, and they should be considered whenever boards elect a new board chair.

9 Traits of a Superior Board Chairperson

What qualities should your board look for in a board chairperson? Ask if your board chair has the following 9 traits of a superior board chairperson:

  1. Possesses honesty, intelligence, and integrity
  2. Understands the board chair’s role and how it dovetails with the rest of the board’s duties
  3. Respects the collaborative process and group-decision making process
  4. Is willing to inspire board members and hold them accountable
  5. Serves as a respected role model for other board members
  6. Facilitates board meetings, encourages participation, and inspires collegiality
  7. Possesses exceptional oral and written communication skills
  8. Devotes sufficient time to the chair of the board’s responsibilities
  9. Embraces a commitment to the vision and a passion for the mission

Lastly, a superior board chairperson looks for ways to run meetings efficiently and with reduced costs. While there is a cost to embracing technology, the right board management system makes up for it in efficiency.

Board Management Software Eases the Board Chair Responsibilities

Considering the many tasks a board chairperson has, their time is at a premium. A board management system saves the board chair lots of time, and it provides a space where all board members can do their work.

From sharing and creating agendas and board books to taking meeting minutes and creating automated follow-ups,  a board management system makes easy work of the board chair’s tasks from start to finish.

All board members can communicate securely through the platform as they need to, and they can store and share documents (annotated or not) in a snap. These are just a few of the tools that will help board chairpersons be the best they can be in the boardroom.

To learn more about being an effective board chair or board member, download The Nonprofit’s Guide to Board Effectiveness today.

Jeremy Barlow

Jeremy is the Director of Digital Marketing at BoardEffect.

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