5 Steps to an Efficient and Effective Nonprofit Board Agenda

5 Steps to an Efficient and Effective Nonprofit Board Agenda

It is crucial to get board meetings right. A nonprofit board agenda is your board’s most important tool.

Granted each nonprofit board is different and has 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 1.5-hour nonprofit board agenda template inside my board member toolkit provides a starting place.

  1. Begin your Board Meeting Agenda with a Mission Moment

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 a 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.

  1. 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.

  1. Designate Some Meeting Times for Board Education

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.

The CEO/ED should not rely totally on their discretion to determine what the board needs to know to do the job. They should poll their board members to determine the education gap and to build consensus about what training is needed.

Tip: An open, productive conversation must take place: about what the board’s role should be, how the board is doing, and what the most important priorities for improvement are. Take 15 minutes at your next board meeting and ask board members to help develop the board’s upcoming education plan. Have the board brainstorm answers to the following questions:

  • What do you wish you had known when you started on the board, to help you make more informed decisions?
  • What information do you feel you are lacking, even now?

In addition, the CEO/ED should share what areas of the organization they feel the board doesn’t understand well enough to make informed decisions.

When the board is actively involved in determining the contents of its own education plan, you will find there is far more interest from those board members about what they need to learn. And you will further find there is far more interest in having all board members attend!

Once there is a consensus about needed training the board can plan to add 15 – 20  minutes to each board meeting, to start your board’s ongoing education program with topics board members themselves have said they want to learn.

  1. Make Sure the Nonprofit 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 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.

A nonprofit board is only as strong as the education and direction that they receive.  Having a board-approved education plan can take your organization to the next level.

  1. Designate Some Meeting Time for Generative Thinking

During this time, for 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 necessary ones).

Having an established and focused board meeting agenda helps the board maximize accuracy, efficiency, and productivity.

And remember great board meetings are usually what makes great boards great!

If you look around and see board members discreetly texting, doodling, or mindlessly looking around, it’s time for a change. If your board members are zoned out or are continuously going off-topic, it’s time to shift your nonprofit board meeting strategy.

I hope this helps. Let me know in the comments. Sharing is Caring.

If you need one-on-one time to strategize on how to engage your board members in fundraising, I offer a 90-minute strategy session where we talk through any questions you have, break down those issues and concerns you have to take your nonprofit (and your board) to the next level. Book your session and let’s get started!

If you are a nonprofit professional and want to learn from me and others join the Nonprofit Professional Exchange Facebook Group.

You can follow me on Instagram @the_nonprofitexpert and other social media platforms @supportingworldhope: Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn, Pinterest.

Author’s Note: This post was originally published in June 2020 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

Categories Nonprofit Communiqué Blog, Board EducationTags , , , , , ,
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