How Is Trust Developed Between The Nonprofit Board Chair And The Chief Executive?

How is trust developed between the nonprofit board chair and the chief executive?

By Eugene Fram

First, in order to maintain trust between the board chair and CEO, the chair must be certain that the evaluation of the organization and the performance evaluation of the CEO are inclusive, i.e., cover a balance of the most relevant outcomes.  Otherwise, the evaluation outcomes have the potential to damage the trust relationship that’s necessary to drive organizational growth.  If the evaluation has a negative tone to it, and the CEO is being given time to improve performance, the chair needs to take steps to reduce unproductive tensions until the CEO’s performance improves – or, alternatively, there’s a decision made that it is time to change the CEO.

Second, is the problematic situation where the chemistry between the board chair and the CEO isn’t good. Let’s say the CEO is politically liberal and the chair is very conservative.  In cases like these, boards often have trouble maintaining civil discourse at meetings. The CEO needs to be strong enough to have a frank talk with the board chair to get the situation back on track.  Some sense of “balance” is required.

Third, an essential ingredient in the board culture is the CEO’s ability to be flexible.  He or she needs to accommodate to a new boss every year or two. Consequently, the CEO can’t be complacent.  He or she needs to be alert, to recognize when the board – often initiated by the chair – wants to move in a new direction.

Source: Policy vs. Paper Clips Third Edition, 2011, pp. 156-157. 



  1. This is an issue with a board I serve on. We’d like to create a succession planning board process which would involve transitioning some members off the board. What is the best way to approach this situation when the chair is one board member that needs to roll off the board?


    1. Zoe:
      There are several “generic” ways to approach these situations, depending on the details of your local situation (!) ask the person(s) to step off the board – he/she may be tired and wiling to do so. (2) ask the person to form a distinguished outside advisory board which will meet with the CEO quarterly to provide counsel about current challenges (3)have an honorary board membership. I remained as an honorary on one small board for about 10 years and alone raised anywhere from 10 to 30% of its annual budget. (4) have a special honor for the person in some way. (5) have a board reorganization which clearly shows the need for a new person to fill his or her slot. Commercial: The third (2011) edition of my book Policy vs. Paper Clips, may be of some assistance. If you would like to review any of these suggestions offline on a pro bono basis, please e-mail me at:
      Best wishes for a successful transition. Changing the board culture will probably be your biggest challenge.


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