So you’ve just been elected as Chair for a small local committee. Maybe you were in another role in the committee for a while and did a great job, or maybe you’re entirely new to committees and have no idea what’s going on (hopefully that didn’t happen, but hey, the world’s a crazy place). What do you do? Are you in charge now? The answers are simple, but there’s some nuance. Let’s get into it.

What function does the Chairperson perform?

The role of a committee chair is unique in that a large chunk of your work is related to meetings. While the position has a number of roles outside off meetings, including succession planning, performance appraisal, recruitment, and volunteer development, running effective meetings is core.

Effectively keeping a meeting on topic and on schedule isn’t easy. It’s the Chair’s responsibility to facilitate sensible discussion and allow all members of the board to speak equally. Acting as referee in tense moments and keeping debate civil is a necessary skill. The Chair will not typically enter the discussion themselves, simply adjudicate it.

When it comes time for the board to make a decision, the Chair will only ever put forward a vote if it would affect the outcome, or if the vote is by ballot.  Keeping the Chairperson largely impartial is key to maintaining their authority in a meeting.

Chairing a Board Meeting

There are six steps to follow when running an important meeting:

  1. Quorum: Quorum is simply ensuring that a majority of your board is present for a meeting. Check with your governing body’s by-laws to determine exactly what is required to meet quorum.
  2. Calling the Meeting to Order: This is when the Chair will address more personal items, such as welcoming new members or thanking retiring ones, and then officially begin the meeting.
  3. Covering the Agenda and the Prior Meeting’s Minutes: The next step is approving the agenda for this meeting and the minutes for the prior one. If a committee member has any amendments or corrections, these are added to the relevant documents immediately without a formal vote.
  4. Communication and Reports: This is when board members and/or subcommittees will present any reports, and the committee will make any relevant recommendations. Supporting the presenter in finishing their speech and keeping discussion civil is important in this phase.
  5. Old/New/Other Business: This will be the longest part of the meeting. Covering previously-discussed items, voting on actionable items, exploring possibilities for the future, and then raising any other matters or announcements which don’t require discussion. Discussion here will be long and complicated, and will require your full attention to ensure it doesn’t get out of hand.
  6. Closing the Meeting: The Chair will thank everyone for attending and the meeting is adjourned. Following up with the secretary and reviewing all documentation created in during the meeting is an important step, ensuring that the formal records are clean and clear for the future.

An ineffective Chairperson will be someone who lets the room get away from them. Addressing distractions, holding a strict schedule, keeping a cool head, and keeping the tone positive and professional are key ingredients when Chair-ing a board. Having a productive meeting is in everyone’s best interests, and a Chairperson who can facilitate that will be prized amongst their organisation.