I have exciting news to share with you today. The report of the first ever national study that gathered the perspectives of nonprofit board chairs has been released. I am privileged to have been part of the research team conducting the study which was done by the Governance Affinity Group of the Alliance for Nonprofit Management. First I want to thank those of you (board chairs) who participated. I can’t tell who did from our data (it’s anonymous) but I know some of you did and California had the largest participation.

Voices of Nonprofit Board Chairs reflects the voices of 635 nonprofit board chairs from across the United States. The study is a first step in hearing directly from board chairs about their experiences and perceptions, highlighting the importance of the board chairs and also the significant dearth of research about them.

Our study focused on answering two questions: How do individuals prepare for their role as chair of a nonprofit board? and, what do board chairs perceive their leadership roles to be in relationship to the board, the community, and the CEO/Executive Director?

I will be writing about some of the both significant and the puzzling findings and sharing my thoughts with you. Here’s a couple to start.

This will sadly not surprise you but 51% of the study participants indicated they did nothing specific to prepare to become board chair. They did find some people, experiences, and information helpful but no one did anything intentional to prepare. One of the experiences they (82%) found helpful was serving as a committee chair. But again, the findings seem to indicate most did not serve as a committee chair with preparing to be a board chair in mind.

The responses also indicate that board chairs find experiences most helpful, compared to specific people or information, as they step into their board chair roles. One of the highly rated experiences (70% found it helpful) was observing the prior board chair. Our research team had an interesting discussion about this noting that we can’t know whether those observations where of a positive board chair role model or of behaviors to avoid. Likely both.

Next time I’ll share what, in hindsight, board chairs told us they would like to have had in order to prepare for the role. For now, let me know what you think about this. Do check out the full report at the Alliance for Nonprofit Management’s website (www.allianceonline.org). You can download the pdf free.