The Role of the Chair / President
People become Board Chairs for many reasons. Some are the immediate and obvious choice of the group because of their history with the association. Some have a particular area of knowledge which makes them a natural choice. Others become Chair because they failed to run fast enough to avoid it. Whatever the reason for being Chair, there is really no mystery to being effective.
The following information contains some tips on how to be an effective Chair, including information on:
The role that the Chair (sometimes referred to as President) of the Board plays is different from all the other roles on the Board. It is the Chair's job to ensure that the Board operates as a team. You have to be concerned about getting the best out of each and every member of the Board. The Chair's role can be summed up in the term "leader".
As the Chair, the rest of the Board will look to you for leadership. This does not mean that the Chair should "run" the organization. It means that you have to spend time considering Board and committee assignments to make sure that all the work of the Board gets done in the most efficient and effective way.
In addition to being an overall leader, the Chair should accept some specific responsibilities as well. The Board Chair's job description is outlined on the next page. Note that while the Board Chair is responsible for the activities listed, ensuring that something gets done does not necessarily mean doing the thing oneself. The Board Chair often acts in conjunction with other Board members and staff, and delegates the actual work of many of the tasks. It is, however, the Board Chair's responsibility to make sure that delegated tasks actually get done.
1. Coordinate the planning of the Board's activities for the year ahead and plans for the association's future. In this capacity, the Board Chair is responsible for ensuring that an ongoing planning process exists for the association or branch.
2. Prepares, in consultation with the Board Secretary, the agendas for Board and Executive Committee meetings.
3. Presides at Board and Executive Committee meetings, making sure that they run smoothly.
4. Ensures that Board members have the information they need to make informed decisions.
5. Ensures that all new Board members get a proper orientation to the Board and to the branch association.
6. Takes charge of the delegation of responsibilities, making sure that they are spread out equitably among the Board members.
7. Organizes the committees of the Board.
8. Maintains contact with committee Chairs, helping them to stay on track and monitoring whether they need any additional support.
9. Ensures that all Board committees are properly served by Board members, other community members, and staff.
10. Takes an active role in fund raising.
11. Represents the association branch at public functions and before public bodies, including funders.
12. Keeps appraised
of the concerns of people living with the effects of brain injury, their
caregivers and the community. In doing so, the Chair acts as the association
branch's "ear to the community".
One of the most important tasks as the Board Chair is to assist in assigning members to various committees. The purpose of the committees is to take one of the specific tasks of the Board (such as developing personnel policies or establishing the budget) and focus on that alone. The recommendations from all the committees then come to the full Board for final discussion and approval.
Getting the best from committees requires the Chair to delegate the task to the appropriate group and then to maintain ongoing contact with the committee without interfering with its work.
The first task is to find the right committee chair. Most associations develop a Board profile, similar to the one on the next page. Each Board member's name is written in the appropriate slot at the top and his/her skills, contacts and demographics are appropriately noted. Examine the Board profile that was developed after the most recent annual meeting. Take a look at all the committee chairs to be filled and do your best to match Board talents with committee needs (e.g. someone who is experienced in human resources may be appropriate to Chair the personnel committee). Remember, filling committees is exactly the same as filling paying jobs. You want the best person for the job, not necessarily the first person who volunteers.
After you have designated
the people you need for committee chairs, repeat the task to fill out
the membership of each committee. Depending on the association's by-laws,
the Board Chair may work with the committees on this task. Whoever is
choosing, it is important to remember that although a committee is chaired
by a Board member, the rest of the committee members do not have to be
board members. Find out who sat on committees last year. How did they
do on the committees on which they sat last year? Did the committees accomplish
their tasks? Try to evaluate committee performance just as you would employee
Equality Seeking Groups
The following chart might help to get your committees thinking about their terms of reference.
Committee Reports to:
A few days before each meeting, have a talk with the staff person and committee chairs to find out about any issues or recommendations that will be coming to the Board at its next meeting. It is hard to guide the discussion if you do not understand the issue.
Sometimes particularly contentious issues come before the Board. In some cases, talk to as many of the Board members as possible before the meeting to find out how they feel about the issue. This will help you understand the different facets of the issue. It will also help to make sure that everyone's opinion comes out at the Board meeting.
It is not necessary for everyone to talk about every item on the agenda. On the other hand, if a Board member comes and does nothing but listen, you have lost the benefit of her opinion and expertise. If some people are not participating, try to draw them out. It may be that they feel they do not have enough to offer. Ask for their opinions directly. For example, you might say "Mary, what do you think about that suggestion?"
Some people are in love with the sound of their own voices. Nothing turns Board members off faster than having to listen to someone who has an opinion (usually a long one) on every issue. It is fair to interrupt someone who has gone on too long with a gentle statement: "That's a good point. Let's hear what some of the others think."
Sometimes two or more members begin a lively debate over a particular issue which becomes a back-and-forth affair. It is unfair to the rest of the Board to let such a debate take over the discussion. Try to summarize their main points and ask if there are any other opinions.
At the end of discussion, summarize the main points that were made. This helps everyone remember the essence of the discussion so that they can decide more effectively how they wish to vote on the issue.
The Chair is a neutral facilitator of discussion. If you start to enter the discussion, you are no longer neutral. It is especially important to remain neutral if an issue is an emotional one for the Board. This neutral position ensures that everyone will feel that their perspectives were treated fairly. If you feel so strongly about an issue that you feel you have to speak out on one side, ask someone else to chair the discussion on that item.
The following chart below on parliamentary procedure will further facilitate meetings in that it gives every Board member a well-known reference point from which to proceed with respect to discussions during a Board meeting.