10 Ways To Make Your Next Board Meeting Better

Nice work! You’ve done the analysis and identified and recruited onto your board the perfect slate of candidates to replace the retiring board members. This new panel of directors is exactly what you were looking for and is sure to help drive the agency towards implementing your well conceived strategic plan.

You figure next year should be a banner year for fundraising, community impact and taking the agency to the next level. Everything seems to be in place and you’re all ready to go, right? Maybe, maybe not.

Your new recruits are now seated on the board, you’ve taken the obligatory board photo, which will soon appear in the local newspaper, and you’ve completed a robust orientation and training session with them. Each director has been fully briefed on your agency’s key issues, challenges, and opportunities and you, along with your board chair, have gone over all the governance and process items that are important to keeping the machinery of the agency running smoothly.

Now that you have this new team of high value directors in place, what are you going to do to keep them engaged, accountable, and productive once the honeymoon period is over and the hard work of being on the board sets in?

But having a first class board in place is not enough any more to guarantee the agency will produce amazing results, and have significant impact in the community. The new board has to be formed into a team and allowed to create its own pace and personality. In other words, it has to go from being a group of successful individuals to a cohesive team unit. No room for silos here. The board has to operate as one. That means—among other things—that directors need to trust each other and be able to rely on each other. Your board directors may only see each other periodically, and for short times. This is your opportunity to help them get on the same page, work to foster a collaborative environment, and learn how to identify and leverage, the individual strengths and talents of each member.

Many directors come from, or have spent significant time in, the business world, and therefore have certain instinctive understandings and expectations they will bring into the nonprofit boardroom. One of them is a well-paced, effective meeting.

While most directors have a passion for an agency’s mission—which is why they agreed to join you in the first place—perhaps nothing will get directors to resign from the board faster than having to sit through unproductive, unorganized, boring board meetings…especially after working all day at their normal jobs.

So, in the interest of helping you get the most out of those high value directors you worked so hard to recruit, and to help the directors feel like they are making the difference they signed up for, here are 10 Critical Tactics to create the best board meetings possible.

Remember, you as the executive director and board president chair should discuss and agree on topics to be included on the meeting agenda, before the meeting.

1. Prepare a complete meeting package for directors attending each board and committee meeting. This package, should include everything a director will need so he/she fully prepare for the meeting. These items may include the agenda, committee reports, meeting minutes, background reading materials, special handouts, etc. This should be sent out no later than one week prior to the meeting.

2. Approach each meeting assuming everyone has read the materials and is fully briefed on the issues. Then, gavel the meeting open and begin. Do not penalize everyone by waiting for a few to read the package while sitting there during the meeting. Do this once or twice and pretty soon everyone will come ready to go. This should end those wasted precious minutes during meetings while everyone is waiting for 1-2 disrespectful directors to catch up.

3. Use a Consent Agenda. A lot has been written about this tool. Think of it simply as a collective list of all routine items needing approval. These may include: meeting minutes, standard contract renewals, routine board resolutions, routine revisions to policies, minor updates, etc. Then the board can vote on all of them at once. You and your board can determine what kind of items are acceptable in a consent agenda.  And, any controversial items can be pulled out and discussed and voted on separately. This approach can save you 10-15 minutes by handling routine board actions quickly and saving valuable time for more important agenda items.

4. Use your board committees effectively, giving them real responsibility. The board should not be discussing the color of your upcoming gala’s napkins. With few exceptions, most “heavy lifting” should be done by committees—in their own committee meetings. Board meetings are for presentation of issues, discussion of options, and disposition.

5. On occasion, a committee comprised of the entire board is necessary and desirable but don’t let that happen too often.  You will undercut the purpose of committees and you’ll be back to long, boring board meetings again.

6. Capture, in writing, all board decisions, including who is doing what, by when.

7. Bring your clients “into” the boardroom to insure the directors are plugged in to what is happening.  I served on a social service nonprofit board for six years and during the last 12 months or so, our executive director started each meeting by reading a letter (anonymously) we had received from someone who had benefitted from the services we provided. Those letters typically described how the client came to need our help and how our services helped them get back on their feet.As you can imagine, those letters were heartfelt, thankful, passionate, and powerful. This simple practice reminded us why we stepped onto that board in the first place and what our real business was—helping the under resourced.
8. You may also want to read these letters at staff meetings, volunteer gatherings, and when speaking with donors.

9. Start out each board meeting with a captivating question. A friend of mine who led a board wanted to get everyone’s juices flowing quickly so she asked the board some controversial, open-ended question each month. Directors could only speak to the director sitting next to them so there was little chance any one person could take over the meeting. This also allowed everyone to have his/her say. She usually limited this to only 10-15 minutes but that was enough to get newer directors talking and everyone else engaged. 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 2017 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?

10. The last, but not least critical element, is leading the meeting itself more effectively.

– Board chairs need to be leaders — tactful leaders —  but leaders nonetheless. They are not figureheads nor can they act like Attila the Hun.

They should be respected by directors and be able, if not comfortable, to make tough decisions, address problems as they arise, and lead tight meetings.

– Directors who like to hear themselves talk or repeat what has already been stated need to be harnessed, to keep meetings flowing smoothly, respect the time of other directors, and give others an opportunity to contribute.

– Directors who commit to doing something must be held accountable if they fail to deliver.

If you follow these guidelines you’ll see your board meetings improve. You should see that they are better paced, more strategic, more lively and engaging, more interesting, and more focused on achieving the important outcomes for the organization.

Is your board ready to take your nonprofit to the next level? Find out now with the Break Through Quiz.