NPO chairperson
03 Oct
  • By Malcolm Boyd
  • Cause in

Why to Appreciate Your NPO Chairperson

The governing body chairperson is the senior governance leader of the organisation and presides over all meetings of the governing body, as well as other meetings as required.

Accepting the role of the governing body chairperson should not to be taken lightly. This role has huge responsibility and can be a very lonely place.

Most individuals may not be fully equipped.


Understanding the critical role of the governing body chairperson


Job description

The role of the governing body chair is one of the most challenging roles in the nonprofit world. A successful chair inspires a shared vision for the organisation and its work, builds and nurtures future governing body leadership, and manages the work of the governing body. This is all accomplished while displaying utmost sensitivity to key stakeholder relationships.

This position demands exceptional commitment to the organisation, first-rate leadership qualities, and personal integrity and decision making from an ethical foundation.

For many governing bodies, success may rest heavily on the individual chosen to lead it.


Core fundamentals

  • As the governance leader, the governing body chair’s duties run from managing the governing body to working closely with the chief executive. Additional duties may relate to his or her role as a spokesperson for the organisation.
  • In functioning as the team leader of the governing body, the governing body chair sets goals in line with the agreed strategic objectives, ensures all members are tasked effectively and working cohesively (during meetings and through committee assignments), serves as the contact for all members on governing body issues, and facilitates governing body meetings.
  • In working closely with the CEO, the governing body chair may be responsible for managing the overall governing body-chief executive relationship. This can include tasks such as developing meeting agendas and coordinating the executive’s annual performance review.
  • The chair’s role is usually defined in the policy documents, but a separate terms of reference should be created to outline the duties in more detail.
  • If the expectations for the governing body chair become too demanding and the position too time-consuming, it will be difficult to recruit new chairs. However, in such an instance, the position can be made more reasonable for an independent non-executive governing body member standing in the role as chair, by sharing the responsibilities and tasks with other governing body members.


Key responsibilities

Policy and planning
Works with the chief executive and the governing body to establish the guiding principles, policies, and mission for the organisation — for example, by initiating a regular review of the organisation’s strategic plan and mission to keep them current and relevant, and by establishing meaningful metrics to measure success.

Budget and finances
Works with the appropriate governing body members to oversee the budget of the organisation and assumes ultimate responsibility for the integrity of its finances — for example, by overseeing independent outside audits and, as appropriate, internal audits as well. As articulated by statutory requirements and codes of good practice.

Governing body meetings
Leads and facilitates governing body meetings by making sure that the agenda is closely followed, every governing body member has the opportunity to participate in discussions, and the governing body uses proper decision-making procedures.

Governing body committees
Serves as an ad hoc member of all governing body committees and works to structure a committee system that contributes to the governing body’s overall effectiveness.

Governing body development and succession planning
Oversees efforts to build and maintain a strong governing body by setting goals and expectations for the governing body, cultivating leadership among individual governing body members, and working with the nominating committee to make governing body development and succession planning a priority.

Governing body recruitment and orientation
Works with the nominating committee to identify and recruit new governing body members who bring important skills and knowledge to the governing body.

Governing body evaluation
Works to make sure the governing body has opportunities to reflect regularly on how well it is  meeting its responsibilities to the organisation — in part by overseeing a governing body self-assessment annually in line with the governance policy manual and King IV guidelines.

Staff oversight, compensation and evaluation
Oversees the hiring, evaluation, and compensation of the chief executive; and works with the Governing body to develop a succession plan for the chief executive’s position — for example, by making sure that other staff members have the capabilities they need to lead the organisation.

Guides the work of the governing body to secure funds for the organisation by overseeing the development of fundraising policies, encouraging and supporting the fundraising efforts of the organisation and individual governing body members, and selected outside contributors, and setting an example by contributing their own time to these activities.

Stakeholder relationships and communications
Speaks for the governing body in the event of a controversy or crisis; oversees the development of stakeholder communications policies; and works to promote the work of the organisation in conversations, speeches, interviews, and other day-to-day activities.

So, before accepting the role of chairperson, be sure to carry out your due diligence and be fully informed of what the role entails.


Check out our other resources for all the info you need on running a top-notch NPO. And don’t hesitate to reach out if you’d like extra guidance!


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Malcolm Boyd
Founder and Managing Partner of Third Sector Insights.

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