Your board meetings don’t have to be uninspiring, frustrating or stressful. If run effectively, board meetings can move your nonprofit closer to its strategic goals and fundraising.
I challenge you to develop a systematic approach in preparing for your next meeting. Not only will it eliminate your stress and confusion, but it can improve your nonprofit’s overall performance.
So, what to do you need to do to run an effective board meeting?
1. Prepare for the board meeting in advance.
Secure a meeting location — If you are lucky your board meeting can be done on-site at your nonprofit. This allows your board to interact face-to-face with your clientele. If you are not that lucky, the location you choose should include a set up for comfort and functionality.
Secure Food — Whether food should be provided at a board meeting is determined by the timing of the meeting. Don’t have a budget for food? No worries. You can seek in-kind donations for local restaurants or have a potluck with each board member bringing in a dish.
Agenda — Working with your executive committee prepare your board meeting agenda at least two weeks before the board meeting. A best practice is a standing meeting with the committee to develop the agenda. The CEO/ED should not be preparing the agenda alone. Agenda preparation is an opportunity to engage the executive committee and give them a role and a voice in board governance.
Once the agenda is prepared it should be emailed to all board members with back up documentation (board packet) at least 72 hours in advance of the upcoming meeting. This will give board members enough time to familiarize themselves with the information before the meeting. This will increase productivity during the meeting by reducing the time needed to present and review information.
The agenda should be detailed, strict and timed. If you meet monthly the board meeting should be no more than 1.5 hours. Always start and end your meeting on time. This shows your board members you value their time.
The board packet should include the agenda, financial statements, reports, minutes for approval, and other necessary documents. This packet must be well-organized, easy to read, and not include unnecessary materials.
2. Make Sure the Board Meeting Agenda is Mission-Focused.
To keep your nonprofit board meeting agenda mission-focused, kick each meeting off with a mission moment. This should only take up about 5 minutes of the agenda. You can have a client tell their nonprofit story to the board. If clients are not available at your meeting time, consider using video testimonials. This is easily accomplished using cell phone video. The goal of this is twofold: 1. It helps the board stay connected to your nonprofit’s purpose and 2. It gives your board a database of stories they can share in the community especially with prospective donors. They will have real-life stories that show your mission’s impact.
Another simple idea is to write your nonprofit mission statement on the top of the agenda so that everyone is constantly reminded of it.
3. Adopt a Consent Agenda.
Use a consent agenda for approval of routine items such as minutes, contracts, vetted policies, etc. A consent agenda is a collection of items that the board approves with one vote without discussion. The types of items that appear on a consent agenda are non-controversial items or routine items that are discussed at every meeting. This will minimize large information downloads and reporting thus freeing up board meeting time for a more strategic discussion.
4. Make Sure the Board Meeting Agenda is Strategic.
A board meeting should not be just about a list of things to be covered in a meeting. A nonprofit board meeting agenda should be strategic.
You should carve some time for board training and education. This is an opportunity to do some skill building with board members on such topics as fundraising, roles & responsibilities, telling our story, advocacy, etc.
In addition, you should ensure that your strategic goals are reviewed during each monthly board meeting. You may have to adjust this depending on the number of your strategic goals and the number of board meetings you have in a year. Otherwise, try to arrange your board’s entire agenda around the strategic goals of your nonprofit. This should be about 40 minutes of your timed agenda.
5. Designate Some Meeting Time for Generative Thinking.
During this time, about 15 minutes, the board engages in deeper inquiry, exploring root causes, values, options, and new ideas. This is where the juice of board service is found.
It is a way for a board to examine an issue or an idea by generating more information about it: identifying the problem instead of solving it; generating questions instead of answers; making sense before making any decisions.
Generative thinking occurs upstream from strategy. Generative board leaders ask, “What problem are we solving?”to gain insight into organizational identity and purpose. Generative thinking provides board members the opportunity to lead as well as govern.
Your nonprofit’s board members are one of your most precious resources. Your nonprofit board members should be doing at least 80% of the talking during the meeting, and that talk should focus mostly on decisions and strategic discussions, not updates and staff reports (except for the absolutely necessary ones).
It is crucial to get board meetings right. A meeting agenda is your board’s most important tool.
Granted each nonprofit board is different and has their one rules they must follow. With this understanding, there is no one way to run a nonprofit board meeting.
For every board meeting, the executive committee (or the board chair) must determine what topics to prioritize, how to manage the available time, and how to ensure the board members arrive prepared and stay engaged throughout the meeting.
However, having a good template to follow for setting up a nonprofit board meeting is a good start.
This board agenda template provides a starting place.
I hope this helps. Your feedback is appreciated. Leave a comment below on what other tools you have used to have an effective board meeting. Sharing is caring.
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