Is Your Nonprofit’s Next Board Chair Prepared for Success?

Is your nonprofit’s next board chair prepared?

Who Comes Next?, by Mary Kelly and Meridith Elliott Powell, is about the importance of succession planning.

My recent reading of this resource, which includes plenty of valuable checklist actions to take, prompted me to think about how nonprofits prepare for future board leadership roles.

Research from the Alliance for Nonprofit Management and BoardSource reveals a significant number of incoming board chairs have little if any preparation.

Here are four actions to bridge the preparation gap and ensure your next board chair is properly prepared.

Be intentional.  Start by identifying the criteria your nonprofit is looking for in a board chair. What skills and experience are needed?

Create a succession plan. Develop a list of those who have the qualifications you’re looking for or individuals who have leadership potential but need additional experience and training.

Avoid succession mistakes. Don’t assume someone’s background meets the desired standards. Does past experience such as chairing other boards automatically mean they were good at it or a best fit for your particular board?

Some organizations believe any board member is qualified to be the chair. My experience says that’s not always the case. Perhaps the biggest mistake to avoid is the practice of electing a chair because, “It’s their turn.” Is that really a qualification you can depend on to get the results your organization needs?

Be proactive with providing training and experiences. Review the needs of your board with person designated as next chair and ask what they would like to know more about and what skills they feel need to be strengthened.

Consider a leadership assessment to determine an action plan for training. Send future chairs to leadership training provided by organizations such as American Society of Association Executives (ASAE), Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives (ACCE), and Boardsource. There are also many organizations that conduct leadership training conferences like HR Florida’s Leadership Conference for SHRM chapter leaders.

Is your Chair-elect considered a preparation role?  Give them meaningful leadership tasks and responsibilities. Be sure they are involved with the organization’s strategic planning.


Avoid having someone being promoted to board chair but not being prepared for the task at hand. These four actions will help bridge the preparation gap that many nonprofits experience.

What actions should your organization be taking to position your next board chair for success?

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