Board Chair: Making Your Mark

Board Cafe

Board Chair: Making Your Mark

By Jan Masaoka

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! 

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: 


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


  • Executive director evaluation—discuss process.
  • Hear report on financial health from Board Treasurer; review and adopt budget.
  • Elect 2 – 4 new members to the board.
  • 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.


  • In executive session (no staff present), the Board President reports on executive director evaluation; salary is discussed and agreed upon.
  • 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.
  • Tour of the facility for board members.


  • Vote on officers for upcoming year.
  • Identify the top three concerns for the organization and have a 15-minute briefing on each one.
  • Discussion of succession planning for the executive director.
  • 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. See "Ten Ways To Invigorate Board Meetings" (one of the most reprinted Board Café articles).

Learn more about being the board chair and board-staff relationships in The Best of the Board Café, or also available on (for 8 bucks more).

Original publication date: 10/1/2005

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