Board Chair: Making Your Mark

Board Café

Board Chair: Making Your Mark

At a recent “camp” we held for board chairs and their executive directors, I was reminded of the potential power of the board chair to move the organization forward—and how often board chairs are uncertain HOW to use their power on the board and in the organization. This month’s issue tackles this topic. As a board chair myself (of the Asian & Pacific Islander Wellness Center in San Francisco) I have a couple of calls to other board members I should be making right now! –Jan Masaoka

DO YOU KNOW AN “ACCIDENTAL TECHIE”?
Many nonprofits have a hidden hero: the person who, without formal technology training, takes care of all the computers, printers and software in the organization. This person un-jams printers, answers questions about formatting in Excel, quietly backs up data, and updates virus definitions. At CompassPoint we call these heroes “accidental techies.” Now there’s a book for them, their executive directors, and funders:

The Accidental Techie: Supporting, Managing, and Maximizing Your Nonprofit’s Technology. ($29.95 plus shipping/tax if applicable).  Available at www.compasspoint.org/bookstore

WHAT DO BOARD MEMBERS OF LARGE CORPORATIONS WISH THEY KNEW MORE ABOUT?
A recent study from McKinsey—an international consulting firm—reports that board members want more information about the INDUSTRY that the company is in, rather than more information about the company’s operations. What a great idea for us on nonprofit boards—to learn more about community centers, or more about small theatres—not just the one where I’m on the board...which would also help board members oversee the organization’s future directions, not just its current operations.

This month’s Main Course article:

BOARD CHAIR: MAKING YOUR MARK
1. Choose three objectives for the year—that you want to accomplish as board chair—one for the organization, one for the board, one for yourself.

  • Examples of goals for the organization: Lead the board in an evaluation of the executive director. Get the accounting system straightened out.
  • For the board: Have a substantial discussion on an important topic at every meeting. Recruit three new board members that add racial, ethnic or age diversity to the board. Have two social events so board members get to know one another. Organize a tour of the facility for board members.
  • For myself: Get to know the executive director better—have lunch at least twice during the year. Spend a night walking with the outreach workers as they work with homeless people living on the streets. Ask the artistic director if you can watch a rehearsal. Volunteer at the organization in another way than being on the board.

2. Work with the ED to develop an agenda for the year. If the board has six meetings per year, sketch out an agenda for the year. Example: 

January:

  1. Discuss plans for upcoming fundraising event.
  2. Agree on priorities for board recruitment and discuss a brainstormed list of candidates.
  3. Hear report from Conflict of Interest Policy Task Force; review draft of conflict of interest policy and if possible, adopt.

April:

  1. Executive director evaluation—discuss process.
  2. Hear report on financial health from Board Treasurer; review and adopt budget.
  3. Elect 2 – 4 new members to the board.
  4. See if there are issues in the June election about which the organization should take a stand, and if so, determine a process and activities around doing so.

July:

  1. In executive session (no staff present), the Board President reports on executive director evaluation; salary is discussed and agreed upon.
  2. Have report/discussion on external developments that affect us: possibly government policies, a merger of two other organizations in our field, a new partnership with an all-volunteer organization, or as determined.
  3. Tour of the facility for board members.

October:

  1. Vote on officers for upcoming year.
  2. Identify the top three concerns for the organization and have a 15-minute briefing on each one.
  3. Discussion of succession planning for the executive director.
  4. Have report from Governance Committee on results of the self-assessment survey of the board.

3. Plan to meet board members individually—even if you meet with just one per month it will be worthwhile.
Ask each one: what would you like to do for XXX that we haven’t asked you to do yet? When is a time on this board that you felt the board was doing a good job? That you were being personally effective? If there was one thing you’d like me to accomplish as board chair, what would it be?

4. Make sure the meetings are conducted well. For Ten Ways To Invigorate Board Meetings (one of the most reprinted Board Café articles), see
Learn more about being the board chair and board-staff relationships in at The Best of the Board Café, available www.compasspoint.org/bookstore or also available on amazon.com (for 8 bucks more).

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