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Above and Beyond: Life as a Board Chair

You are now chosen to serve as Chair of the board for at least one year. What should you do to prepare for this year? What should you expect to do during your year? What should you expect of your relationship with the organization's chief executive?

The Alliance recommends that you prepare for your year of service by taking the following five steps: 

  1. Review again the key organizational documents of your nonprofit to refresh your familiarity with the organization’s vision, goals and operating norms. These should include: the bylaws, major board policies, the strategic plan, the most recent 990 filing with the IRS, the most recent audited or reviewed financial statement, key program documents, etc.
  2. Meet at least once with the organization’s chief executive to agree upon mutual expectations of your respective roles. In addition, you should create a schedule of regular (ideal: monthly) meetings with the chief executive to coordinate and communicate about those expectations, the board’s goals and the needs of the organization.
  3. Set no more than three goals for yourself for the year. These goals should relate to your contributions as a board member, not the overall organization. And they should relate to goals for the board itself.
  4. Meet individually with each member of the board to share with them your goals, and develop an understanding of how you can support each of them in realizing their full potential as board members. Ideally, each individual board member is clear about what they will do for the organization during the coming year, and you can gain mutual clarity about that.
  5. Sketch a plan for the agendas of all regular board meetings to be held during your tenure as chair. This should be sketched in cooperation with the chief executive, and as much as possible, you should try to hold yourselves to this “advance agenda” concept. This assures that you are using board meetings strategically and not just reacting to events or wasting time on listening to committee reports.