What makes a good charity Chair?

person writes post-it notes for discussion, includes finance, relationship with CEO etc

Much is written for and about the role of charity trustees. Yet before the Association of Chairs launched five years ago, very little was provided to support those who chair charity boards or management committees.

But chairing is a key leadership role and Chairs make a huge difference to their organisation, either for good or for ill.

We are continually learning more about what makes a good Chair. We work with Chairs at different stages, who are leading nonprofits of all shapes and sizes. These insights, combined with research have enable us to identify behaviours and practices that help and those that hinder.

Problematic behaviours

  • Authoritarian – they micromanage, don’t respect the CEO or board colleagues, have poor listening skills, are egotistical.
  • Create or avoid conflict – a disruptive Chair contributes to confusion over the board’s role, makes decision-making harder, increases turnover of valued staff and board members, and slows progress.
  • Does not focus on key issues - they are unable to see the bigger picture, run unfocused or poorly managed meetings.
  • Not productive – an effective Chair does not push the board to assess the performance of the organisation or itself, nor do they have or make use of external contracts, or focus enough on impact rather than process.

Helpful behaviours

In contrast, good Chairs demonstrate personal attributes which help them work well with people. They have also developed key skills which they use to get the best out of colleagues and the organisation.

1. Personal attributes

Successful Chairs are altruistic, have a good sense of humour, empower others, are friendly and humble. They often bright, confident, reflective, organised, focused and open.

They are also able to relate to others and bring good emotional intelligence. For example they are flexible, non-judgemental, calm, at ease with people of all types.

2. Skills and knowledge

More importantly, good Chairs do certain things. They have the capacity to lead which means that they are committed to the organisation and devote time to it. They are clear about their role and are able to see the bigger picture. They have spent time learning about the organisation and finding out how it really works.

Good Chairs are able to deal with conflict and contentious issues. They have built a good team, including with the chief executive and understand group dynamics. They are also willing to use their personal connections to the benefit of the organisation.

Support for Chairs

If you would like to review / improve your chairing skills, we offer support to Chairs and Vice Chairs in England and Wales. You might like to start with:

  • A Chair's Compass - a guide for Chairs, focussing on the challenges of the role
  • Beacon Programme - resources, workshops and webinars for Chairs / Vice Chairs of smaller charities in England
  • our programme of events and networking opportunities.

Join today to find out about how we can support you in your role.


See also What keeps Chairs of smaller charities awake at night?