I have had the honor of chairing a number of nonprofit boards and have learned much in the process. When I step in as chair, I typically write a letter to the board sharing my thoughts on my role as chair. Madeleine thought you might find reading my typical letter helpful. Ted
Dear Fellow Board Members.
To help you understand me, let me share a little bit of my philosophy regarding boards.
My personal view is that a chairperson’s role is as a leader among equals. A good chairperson should be a facilitator who brings out the best in every board member in building a consensus from what can be very different points of view.
The chairperson has to be fair to all—a good listener and a good communicator. A good chairperson should also be open-minded and should encourage all board members to voice their views. To me this is critical because the whole concept of a board is based on the belief that the best decisions are made after full discussion and debate by people with different types of experiences.
The chairperson also has to be efficient in running meetings and moving us quickly without discouraging board members from sharing their views. The chair has to professionally interface with staff and various constituents and reflect the consensus of the entire board—even when it might differ from their own personal view on a matter.
Also, the chairperson is not the CEO, and should not intrude on the CEO’s responsibilities. Even though the board does have a responsibility for oversight, we must observe a line of demarcation between the responsibilities of the board and those of the CEO. Indeed, if we work well as a board then we will serve as a resource to the CEO that will help enable her or him to be truly successful in carrying out assigned responsibilities.
Personally, my style is to encourage open communication and debate. I prefer not to spend much time in board meetings on “transactional” matters that can be handled efficiently in advance or outside the meetings, so that we will have a much time as possible for substantive discussion. You will undoubtedly see me trying to move our meetings in this direction.
I believe that board committees are very valuable and should do their substantive work in advance of board meetings so that crisp reports can be made to the entire board. And finally, I encourage each of you to let me know at any time if you have suggestions for better ways to operate as a board. I look forward to working with all of you to accomplish this organization’s ambitious vision.
Each of us has agreed to serve on this board and give of our time, talent, and treasure for our own special reasons. In common, I suspect, is that we share a commitment to the broad mission area in general, and to this organization in particular. Today, neither is without their fair share of problems. This means our service can have great value.
I look forward to working with each of you to ensure this organization achieves its full potential.
About the Author
Ted is the board chair of the Charleston Promise Neighborhood and a member of the boards of the USAFA Endowment, the Trident United Way (TUW) and the Tri-County Cradle-to-Career Collaborative (TCCC). He is also a member of the TCCC Executive Committee. Ted was a founding member of SVP Charleston, which is a social venture philanthropy organization, and a founder of Book Buddies, which is the predecessor organization of Reading Partners Charleston.
Ted’s passion is helping to bring about fundamental improvement in the public education of children from lower income households, and he is co-chairing the Movement for Effective Schools for All Charleston Children.
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