Everything starts with leadership. So it’s important to have a genuine leader for the board or advisory council of your organization. And that person needs to be willing to use his/her power and influence for the good of the organization.
The process for appointing the chair of an organization should be transparent to the other members and a priority responsibility should be development.
Who Makes a Good Chair?
The chair of the board or advisory council should be someone who can, first and foremost, build a team of influential people who can make an impact on the organization. He/she should be aware that those to be recruited need to be active advocates for the values, mission and vision of the organization. He/she should regularly call meetings so that the board members can understand the key issues confronting the organization, help support the philanthropic operations and use personal and professional contacts to benefit the organization. When and if either the chair or a board member cannot fulfill these expectations, they should be asked to, or volunteer to, step down from their positions.
The chair should be someone who is engaging, understands the issues, and calls upon community contacts for the good of the organization. This individual should be seen as a leader by others. Not only should he/she be able to lead, but also must be able to follow. He/she should be someone who can develop honest relationships.
The chair should be able to make meaningful financial contributions to the mission of the institution, whether personal or through business. In chairing such a group, this mission should be the individual’s primary charitable focus.
Working with institutional leadership and development staff, this individual should set expectations for the other board or council members. Term limits always should be set for the benefit of the organization and the benefit of the members. Limits also should be set for the chair. For those less active, but nonetheless interested members, an emeritus group could be formed, allowing them to continue to be involved on a much lesser level and their contributions can continue to be recognized.
The chair, again with institutional leadership and development staff, should develop a process for recruiting an appropriately diverse group of people representing the community. Expectations for their roles should be clearly communicated including financial contribution, attendance at established meetings, roles on committees, etc.
The chair should establish a process for training and ensuring a solid orientation for a board or council member. It is even more valuable if a mentor is assigned for support through the process.
The chair should work with senior leadership to ensure that the board or council are engaged in resolving an issue confronting the organization. This might include participation in a fundraising or marketing plan. These types of efforts can be designed to heighten community outreach. They also can unite the board for a shared objective and achievable goal, giving everyone a sense of accomplishment.
The chair should ensure regular meetings and the opportunity to learn about outstanding organizational progress. He/she should also include reports from committee chairs and administrative leaders. The chair should infuse discussions about important topics so that the meetings are not simply “talking heads,” but that everyone feels involved. Above all, the chair cannot simply dominate the meeting.
True Life Examples: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly
I had been part of an organization that was the darling of the community during a wonderful period when the chair was simply outstanding. Not only did this pillar of the community contribute, he encouraged others to do so by chairing campaigns, and regularly talking to people about the value of their contributions. He encouraged staff to be involved and supported them. He was always enthusiastic, and used his charming personality for the good of the organization. While he was busy with his own corporation, he built so much respect within the community that individuals, foundations and corporations all welcomed him and listened closely to him or his designee. This offered a remarkable advantage to the development office, and fundraising flourished. Such success also inspired people from the community to become involved in 1,000 different ways. It was just great.
I also had been part of an organization that was outstanding in so many ways, but the board members were not well directed and could not conduct development business in a productive manner. The chair was effective, but could not control the agenda. There were factions on the board, and most of the meetings focused on very disruptive activities. It was bad.
I also had been part of another organization that had an important mission and wonderful involvement on the part of community members. In my first weeks on the job, I made a presentation to the board––the members really were looking forward to combining efforts within a development program. Earlier efforts had been erratic at best. I focused on strategies that we would launch immediately and explained areas in which the board could be involved. I received the first standing ovation that the members had ever given. As I made my way back to my seat, the chair said: ‘Now I am sure that Gayle will do a very capable job with fundraising…but please do not feel that you have to attend meetings or make any contributions. Having your name on our roster is gift enough’. It was ugly.
Leadership within a board or a council is not for the fainthearted, to be sure. The best leaders forget about themselves and help others to exercise their creativity. The best leaders focus on the team’s needs and goals. The best leaders know that processes must be in place and his/her focus must be on achieving greatness together. Passionate leadership creates a sustainable advantage.