Every nonprofit organization (as well as public agency) is looking for the perfect board chairperson who can excel at every aspect of leading the organization to the next level. It’s true that the board chair is a critical element to a successful organization. Selecting a board chair must be a careful and strategically well-planned process. You don’t select a board chair based on who raises their hand first and cries “pick me.”

Serving as the chair of a board is not a role for the undecided or inexperienced. To do the job right demands at times exceptional and supernatural qualities, endless energy, and undivided attention and commitment. Accepting the responsibility of leading a nonprofit board, not just serving as a figurehead, assumes that the chair possesses the leadership competencies through demonstrated (professional or volunteer) experience to do an effective job and produce results, namely leading a team, running a business, or handling the allocation of resources.

It has been our finding that the focus of nonprofit and business leaders, in their board roles, is frequently on keeping administrative costs and enterprising risks low, without consideration of what it takes to ensure program quality and impact. They often do not understand how the mission is realized or how its impact is assessed. They would never consider running their own businesses without the necessary resources or talent just to keep overhead low.

Imagine if these leaders used their board roles to promote a greater investment in capacity building, succession planning, and performance measurements, rather than minimizing risk and administrative costs. Without adequate training on their role as a nonprofit board leader, they miss creating the alignment of the mission with an understanding of the talent and resources needed for success and sustainability. We propose that the stewards of mission-driven organizations should be adequately trained in the implications of their governance roles, before assuming the mantle of board chair.