There is no doubt that the roles of the committee chair and board leaders are pivotal in any organization. They help to structure, organize, and carry out the mission of the organization. One would only imagine, then, that a great deal of planning and preparation goes into selecting the people who will step into these very important roles. Would you be surprised to know that nearly half of the people who have held these positions did nothing specifically to prepare for the role of board or committee chair? In fact, many of them hadn’t even held a lower position before taking a leadership role. With that in mind, it is clear that many nonprofits have not given these leadership roles the attention they deserve. Let’s examine how association leaders can work to build the leadership capacity of committee chairs and board leaders.
Step 1: Prepare Committee Members
It would make little or no sense to select a board leader who has never served on a committee before. Therefore, the best way to prepare your potential board leaders is to start with your committee members. If you invest the time and energy into molding your committee members into strong, knowledgeable leaders, you are solidifying your opportunity to attain successful and knowledgeable committee chairs. It is a natural part of the progression for committee members to eventually become committee chairs, and committee chairs to become board members.
Step 2: Clearly Define the Roles
Executive Directors will certainly have a list of expectations from their board leaders, but how can they possibly expect them to meet those expectations unless they have a clear definition of their role and responsibilities? Every board leader should have a clear perception of their role, how their work fits into the organization’s long-term goals, and parameters for making budgetary and other important decisions. They should understand their duties and work collaboratively with staff and other volunteer leaders to accomplish those tasks.
Step 3: Provide the Right Resources
Most board leaders step into the role with hopes of doing a great job. However, they often are not as effective as they want to be because they were not properly trained for the job. It is naïve to think that you can simply throw someone into a leadership role without offering any resources to help them. You can start by preparing your committee members so that when and if they become board members they can refer back to their experience as committee chair. You can also prepare board leaders by offering mentoring opportunities, peer networking, training and workshops, and access to a specific resource on demand. All of these efforts will help to ensure your board leaders have the skills necessary to govern committees, run an effective meeting, and focus on the organization’s strategic plan. Overall, there is no shortage of willingness to learn on behalf of the board members. They are eager to get right in and do their job. It is, however, up to the organization to make sure proper steps are taken to increase the leadership capacity of committee chairs and board leaders.