HAPPY FISCAL NEW YEAR – Forming a Partnership with a New Board Chair

12/11/2016 10:17 PM | Ed Graziano (Administrator)

By: Amy Wishnick, Wishnick & Associates, LLC
The start of the fiscal year, even if not recognized with champagne and fireworks, often signals new beginnings. In the months and weeks leading up to July, there is often a burst of activity in nonprofit organizations. You and your board of directors create and ratify a new budget. Perhaps the governance or nominating committee puts forth a slate of new board members along with a set of new officers to step into leadership roles. You will have a new board chair as of July 1.

This recurring change in volunteer leadership, this fact of life for nonprofit executives, is what I want to explore. An important aspect of your job as a nonprofit executive is to embrace this change and forge a harmonious relationship with your new partner in leadership. With an open mind and a welcoming spirit, you and the new board chair have the potential to transform your organization.

Here are two manageable and worthwhile fiscal New Year’s resolutions that will foster a happy and productive fiscal year for you and your new board chair.

1. Develop a trusting, mutually supportive relationship.
For an ED/CEO it may feel as if you change dancing partners on a regular basis. Just as soon as you have figured out the tempo and steps and developed a comfortable rhythm with one board chair, the music changes and you have a new board chair and need to figure out a new set of dance steps.

What can you do to ensure that this recurrent change is an enriching experience for you and your organization?

  • Communicate. Meet regularly with your new board chair. Schedule regular face-to-face meetings with additional calls periodically and build trust through candid conversation. Agree that all topics are on the table for discussion. Foster developing a strong partnership that puts the organization first.
  • Be a resource. You are a valuable asset for your board chair. You know everything about the organization and the ways it delivers on its mission. Share what you know so your board chair is also knowledgeable. The more you share, the better you and your board chair can strategize together.
  • Be receptive. Your board chair is a vital resource for you. She/he understands what is going on in the minds of other board members and can demystify it for you. Working together you can inspire your board to persevere and work with you to achieve the organization’s goals. Each new board chair has a different approach to leadership – figure out what you want to learn.
  • Collaborate. Ask each other questions and together brainstorm answers. Value and play to each other’s strengths. Understand that while your roles are different, your desires for your organization are the same.

2. Cultivate and nurture your board chair’s legacy.
Everyone wants to leave her/his mark. Serving on a nonprofit board permits an individual to pursue a passion, champion a cause, and support a meaningful effort. For many, leading a nonprofit board offers the possibility of contributing to the world in a particular, meaningful way that is different from one’s profession.

While your board chair may or may not have prior experience in this type of leadership position, you have history with this role within your organization. You are the constant in the leadership equation as board chairs come and go according to term limits. With your understanding of your organization’s past and present, you are in a prime position to work with the new board chair to identify her/his unique assets and a way to capitalize on them when leading the board.

Perhaps your new board chair came through the volunteer ranks of your organization by starting as a committee member and rising to committee chair. If yes, she/he is well situated to impress upon other board members the value and importance of engaging with the organization through committee work or asking their friends to participate. The resulting legacy may be focused attention to ensuring that board members participate broadly and share their talents freely with the organization.

Maybe your board chair believes deeply that it is her/his duty to support the organization financially, to introduce potential donors to the nonprofit, and introduce the nonprofit to potential donors. If this is the case, she/he may foster a culture of giving that pervades the volunteer ranks. The legacy of this board chair can be a roster of engaged new donors and a board that embraces its fundraising duties.

Perhaps your new board chair is emotionally intelligent, a good communicator, and a warm and welcoming individual. With your encouragement, she/he can use these engaging personal traits to inspire a boardroom culture that supports collegiality and candor. If you are lucky enough to have a board chair who understands the benefits of these intangible qualities, harness that energy and see the good that follows.

Successful board chairs set an example of what commitment to the organization looks like. They communicate with the other board members to ensure open dialogue and shared vision.

Working with your board chair to uncover her/his talents and focus enriches the leadership experience and leaves a lasting impression on the organization.
So raise a glass to your partnership because with each New Year, fiscal and calendar, the opportunity of a new beginning spurs creativity and excitement. Cheers!

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