Over coffee with a friend who recently retired as a nonprofit board president, I learned how she kept board meetings lively and got her directors engaged right from the opening gavel. I had not served on this board so I was interested to learn her secret. Before she slid into the president’s chair, she noticed most meetings began with little energy and focus, and her newest directors usually let the older ones lead the discussions and set the tone in decision-making. She knew this was not healthy and decided something had to be done.
She decided to start out each board meeting with what she called a “captivating question”. She wanted to get everyone’s juices flowing so it was usually controversial, open-ended, and meant to drive passions. You could only speak to a director sitting next to you so there was little chance any one person could take over the meeting and it allowed everyone to have his/her say. She usually limited this to 10-15 minutes but that was sufficient to get newer directors to talking and everyone focused on the organization. Would this work for your board meetings?
What if you took 10 minutes at the beginning of your next board meeting and asked everyone questions like:
- If we were starting up our organization today brand new, what would it look like? Would we recreate what we have now, or create something that looks different?
- Let’s say it is 2016 and we just came off the most successful year we ever had from programming, fund development and organizational standpoints. What 2-3 key steps or decisions did the board make resulting in these great results?
- If we could do one thing right now that would improve our organization (whether internally or externally in our service delivery) and neither time nor money was an issue, what would that be?
Give it a try and let know what happens. I’d be interested to hear from you. Give me a call…
For more thoughts about running productive board meetings, see this article, and this one, too.
Captivating questions are a brilliant idea! When a group of intelligent people gather for a meeting it’s essential to get them talking and sharing their creative ideas. Thanks for a great article.
Thanks for a great idea Diane.
That’s very interesting… my favorite question is “It’s 2016 and we have had our best year yet!”. This is where you really get to hear the ideas of each board member instead of the collective opinion of the group.
You never know what genius idea may be sparked from a thoughtful question to start your meetings off.
Thanks Zake. I believe an important responsibility of leaders is to ask the right questions so the organization keeps first things first! Oh, and to be sure the right people are in the room when those questions are asked…
Thanks for your thoughts.
Great article. My only problem is with the title. I sent it to my board chair but had to make sure that he didn’t think I thought his meetings were boring!
Thanks for your comments. Feel free to re-title the blog…”Board Presidents Rock!”…and then send it to him.
GREAT ideas! I’m newly the Chairman of our Board, and I plan on starting each Board Meeting with a game!
The idea will be to have Board Members demonstrate their knowledge of our organization’s history, mission, and programs! I’m bringing a little prize each time to award the “Winners”.
Great idea Mitch. You will not only get meetings off to a rousing start, but you’ll also be taking important steps in preserving the history and original DNA of the organization…good luck!
Great idea to get meetings out of their rut! I’ve just taken over as President of our non-profit. I like the first question – if we had to start over, and a twist on the 2016 question – how about “It was the worst year ever – what happened and how do we right the ship?”
Great, let me know how it goes…
Thanks for the idea. I can see why these questions would provide a way to engage directors during Board meetings. It also seems they would provide n excellent opportunity to engage directors between Board meetings and perhaps facilitate more work being done outside of metings (especially if the Board meets only a few times per year).
I am wondering if anyone has done as much and would be curious to hear from them.
A really innovative farsighted approach.
Here’s another “novel” idea: How about using the approach “Here’s what the organization we represent is trying to achieve. In the past, it has achieved “A”, “B” and “C” in this way. It has not been able to achieve “D”, “E” and “F”. What do you think we should do in order to achieve these things?
In other words, HONESTLY share information about where the organization may have failed and ASK what can be done to overcome challenges.