I hope so. Or are you so relieved that you’ve got a body in the Board President position, you did a little happy dance and moved on to the next fire that needed to be put out?
This Chief Volunteer Officer position is no joke. They lead the group that has serious legal and fiduciary responsibilities, among other things. So as you’re gearing up for your next leadership transition, be intentional about setting them up for success. This can mean the difference between positive, exhilarating mission impact and a ruined reputation, or worse.
Strong leadership matters. We can’t assume everyone is fully equipped to step into the Board President role, regardless of how enthusiastic they are. And yet when I ask CEOs how they are orienting their next Board President, the majority of the time I get a blank stare. At best I hear, “Well, she’s been Vice President so she knows what it’s all about.”
Without a strong leader who has been oriented to the position, you risk:
* Ineffective meetings
* Poor engagement by the rest of the board
* Little accountability
* Weak committees
* Poor attendance
* Lack of a teamwork culture
* Burn out
* Poor reputation, etc.
Remember – this is a partnership between staff and board. Let’s treat it as a leadership development opportunity.
When you take 3 steps toward coaching up the Board President, you can achieve a high performing board with a positive culture.
1. Before the new Board President starts the position: do a quick inventory of their skills and experience against what is needed for the position. Are they a Fortune 100 CEO? Is this their first nonprofit board experience? Do they have group management experience? Everyone is different and will have different needs.
Then sit with them and have a conversation to share expectations so there are no surprises. Find out what they would like to know more about. Talk about how you would like to work together and discuss communication preferences.
2. Conduct an informal orientation with the outgoing Board President in attendance when possible. There is a lot that goes on behind the scenes that the incoming President may not know about.
Discuss how you build agendas, stay in touch with committee chairs, foster the board-staff partnership, etc. Ask the new Board President to meet with the other Officers to set goals for the year – this is a great first task for a new President!
3. Be sure to follow up with the Board President after their first board meeting to debrief and see how they felt. Set out the plan for the year and be sure to check in periodically, not just on tasks and strategy, but also on how they are adjusting to the new role. Sometimes just being available is all they need.
Hopefully you don’t throw new employees into their positions without some training and orientation. Let’s not do that with our volunteers either. Everyone deserves support and guidance and in this case, the risk to your organization is too great to skip it.