What Makes a Great Board Chair

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By Michelle Basham, Executive Director

The Board of Directors is an essential part of any nonprofit. An engaged, hardworking Board can take an organization from good to great. As Executive Director, I rely on the Board Chair to talk through issues, seek advice and to discuss the future of the Bridge.

Throughout my nonprofit career, I have worked with many Board Chairs and have learned first-hand how critical a strong Board Chair is to an organization’s success or failure. Here are just a few of the traits I have seen which help nonprofits flourish:

Engaged.  First and foremost, a nonprofit Board Chair needs to be engaged, leaning in and paying attention. Being a Board Chair is much more than a title, it is a critical role for your organization’s success.

Ambassador. Great Board Chairs love the organization they serve and want everyone to know it.  Whether it’s at work or at play, they are always looking for ways to make connections and raise awareness about the organization.

Knowledge Sharing. A great Board Chair should have relevant professional knowledge. That doesn’t mean you have to be a nonprofit professional, but experience in areas including human resources, finance, real estate and law, can make a big impact since those are all areas that every nonprofit executive wrestles with.

Fearless. Strong Board Chairs are not afraid to ask difficult questions and to dig into reality. They don’t operate in promises of what might happen but look to the facts and the data in order to protect the organizations they serve.

Mutual Trust. As Board Chair, it’s not your job to manage program staff and staffing decisions, dig into day-to-day operations, or worry about the regular maintenance of the building. Trust your Executive Director to manage the day to day affairs of the organizations. Conversely, it is critical for Executive Directors to trust their Board Chair.

As Executive Director of the Bridge, I am thankful we have a strong Board Chair in Scott Thomas-Forss.  Becoming a Board Chair is a big responsibility and if you have the attributes highlighted above, you are ready to take on the challenge for some lucky nonprofit!

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