Dear Ask the Experts,
How does a nonprofit organization go about selecting a board chair? My organization wants to create an intentional process to drive the selection, rather than leaving the choice of a leader to a last-minute decision. Any help you or your members could offer would be most appreciated.
Thanks so much,
The best way is to select a board chair is to start with a "job description." Don't just discuss the usual (leading meetings, duties of the chair) but also have the whole board consider what skills/expertise/type of leader is needed by the organization at this time. The description may fit your current chair; it may not.
As an organization grows and as factors outside the organization change, the type of person best suited to lead will change. The board needs to realize that a change in leadership is an opportunity to really think about what characteristics will best serve the organization.
Sometimes the current board chair picks his/her successor. This is easy but not always the way to find the best person. A somewhat better technique is to look at the chairs of the board committees. A third way is to have a vice-chair position that leads to chairmanship after a specified period of time.
The best procedures is to have a succession plan in place.
The Governance (or Nominating) committee and/or the Executive Committee should write a preliminary job description and selection procedure for the full board to discuss and amend. They could start with a questionnaire that board members fill out anonymously, stating what characteristics/expertise they believe the organization needs.
This is an important discussion to have at the board level. You might consider hiring a consultant to facilitate; it will be worth the investment of time and money.
All the best,