The Role of the Board Chair

The Board Chair is a vital position within nonprofits. From title selection to the responsibilities of the role, discover all the ways in which a Board Chair functions within an organization and how they can lead with vision and purpose.

What Is the Board Chair?

The board chair is responsible for leading the board and serving as the direct supervisor of the chief executive, who is responsible for the day-to-day running of the nonprofit. This position demands exceptional commitment to the organization, first-rate leadership qualities, and personal integrity. To acquire this position, the incoming chair must earn the respect and vote of fellow board members by demonstrating they are able to meet the challenges of the position.

Board Chair Title

What should the chief elected officer be called? The most common and least confusing title is chair or chairperson. While many organizations use the title president for their chief executive officer, alternatively, the chair may be called president if the chief executive is called executive director.

Chair Roles and Responsibilities

Many board chairs are experienced and enthusiastic leaders who set the strategy, ensure resources, and provide oversight for the nonprofit. The primary responsibility of the board chair is to lead the board by engaging individual board members to work as a unit. This involves facilitating board meetings, showing strong leadership, and supporting and supervising the chief executive, all while following best governing practices.

Leader of the Nonprofit Board

A board chair acts as a strategist and is knowledgeable about the organization and board practices. They also serve as a coach and a conciliator. The chair most commonly performs the following functions:

  • Serves as the contact point for individual board members on board issues.
  • Works with the board and chief executive to set strategy, goals, and objectives for the board and ensures that they are met.
  • Ensures that all board members are involved in committee activities and assigns committee chairs.
  • Motivates board members to attend meetings and actively participate.
  • Encourages evaluations of the chief executive.
  • Raises contributed income and support development efforts.
  • Maintains visibility in the community.

Facilitator of Board Meetings

One of the trickiest responsibilities of a chair is to run effective and productive board meetings. Effective board meeting facilitators must be able to:

  • Create a purposeful agenda in collaboration with the chief executive and follow it.
  • Know how to run a productive meeting.
  • Engage each board member in deliberation.
  • Ensure appropriate voting processes are in line with the organization’s governance model.
  • Control dominating or out-of-line behavior during meetings.

Should the Chair Vote?

The chair has the same right to vote as other board members. Some chairs vote, while others abstain and vote only to break a tie. Most chairs wait for the other board members to speak before sharing their own position to ensure a robust discussion.

Partnership with the Chief Executive

The leadership of the chief executive and the board chair, though having demonstrably different roles, reinforce and support each other. Each has their own responsibilities — the chief executive leads the organization and the chair leads the board — but they meet regularly to support, consult, and complement each other.

Read more on how to cultivate a strong Board-Staff Partnership.

Succession Planning

A well-conceived succession plan for leadership positions ensures fresh ideas and prevents too much power from being concentrated in the hands of a few. Start by recruiting board members with demonstrated leadership qualities to avoid running out of qualified candidates. The governance committee should provide continuous opportunities and training for board members to create a pool of leadership candidates when a new election is in order.

Involve the full board in the leadership succession process. Define the necessary qualifications. The governance committee should consult with each board member for nominations and eventually, through feedback, bring a single candidate to the board for election. This process avoids the notion of winners and losers while stressing consensus and group decision making.

Leading with Purpose

As evidenced in BoardSource’s Purpose-Driven Board Leadership, boards represent and govern our organizations on behalf of communities.

Who is on the board, and especially who leads the board, can drastically change how the board operates and what role it plays. The chair plays a critical role as a partner of the governance committee and in concert with the chief executive to implement a purpose-driven board (PDBL). The chair can work with the governance committee to embrace the PDBL framework for recruitment strategies as well as with the full board in keeping the four principles paramount to organizational planning.

Explore a Top Resource for Board Chairs

Whether you are a first-time or experienced board chair, the role as board chair is critical. Together with the chief executive and with the support of the full board, you are responsible for guiding your nonprofit organization towards setting strategy, ensuring resources, and providing oversight.

The chair role is paramount in an organization advancing its purpose, reaching its goals, and making a positive impact in its community. The Board Chair Handbook is a resource specifically designed to assist board chairs in carrying out their duties effectively. It provides practical tips to help chairs excel in their role.

  Advance with The Board Chair Handbook

101 Resource | Last updated: July 24, 2023

Resource: The Board Chair Handbook

Board Chair FAQ

Is there a term limit for the board chair?


Chair terms and term limits are in concert with the terms of officers as laid out in an organization’s bylaws.  BoardSource recommends term limits for officer positions, and the board as a whole.

How do chairs lead?

The best board chairs understand and wield their influence to advance the organization’s mission and collective purpose, align the work of the board, and mentor and support the chief executive.