How can you make the first board meeting of the year effective, engaging, and use it to set the stage for a great year?

In a recent article we discussed expectations for your new board. If you missed that post, you can check it out here. It will set the stage for today’s discussion about how to run a better 1st board meeting.

Every board begins the new year with plenty of excitement, anticipation, and passion around the cause. You and your team worked hard identifying new candidates, qualifying, interviewing, and recruiting them onto the board. And now here they are, all sitting around the boardroom table looking at you as your first board meeting begins. They are looking for direction, for purpose, for leadership. What should you do?

Every engine needs maintenance — a check under the hood — to be sure all systems are working well and in unison. I propose you do that very thing with your new board.

How you can make 2016 your agency’s best year ever? How can you get your new board up and running quickly and operating like a well-oiled machine? Effective nonprofits always have effective boards. I am convinced that if a nonprofit agency is not making the impact it wants, it is usually due to an ineffective, underperforming board.

Many new directors were just recently elected. With a new role often comes confusion about what the individual and team are supposed to do. Since new directors may be reluctant to get engaged quickly, I want to provide you with insight on how to set the stage for success at the first board meeting of the year. The two most important things to remember are these:

  1. Every board member needs to know exactly what is expected of them, both individually and as a part of the board.

  2. Every board member needs to understand the processes, protocols or practices, of the board, and be familiar with the cultural style of the board itself.

There are several topics you should cover at this first board meeting to insure your board gets off to a strong united start as quickly as possible. I call this The Kickoff List. If you address these 20 critical elements at your first board meeting, you’ll see your directors quickly launch in a positive direction, and make traction against your goals. Depending on your situation, some may be more important then others. But it will be helpful to review them all. If you do, you will avoid a lot of problems, misunderstandings, and missteps during the year.

  1. Discuss what worked very well last year and should be retained in the new year. What failed and needs to be changed in the new year.
  2. Were there any ”lessons learned” from last year that the new board should be told?
  3. Get them engaged quickly. Assign each director to at least one committee and appoint experienced boards members with leadership skills as chair. Don’t let them fall into a habit of just showing up at meetings thinking that is al they have to do.
  4. Have the board chair and Executive Director discuss the plan of how to conduct business and operate, protocols to be followed, etc.
  5. Review the purpose of each committee and what major issues it has, or may face this year. Be sure to include meeting dates, expectations, and protocols.
  6. Review benchmarks, standards, and attendance requirements (or expectations).
  7. Review your expectations of the directors individually and as a whole. Be sure to sit with each one individually to share details and allow for one-on-one communication.
  8. Review board vs. staff roles and position descriptions, especially if there have been challenges with overlap or boundaries in the past.
  9. Review expectations for the coming year — goals, strategy, and metrics used for measuring success and progress.
  10. Review director job descriptions and important dates like board and committee meetings, board retreats, major events, etc.
  11. If your agency is evolving from a start up to an established one, discuss how board duties shift from a startup (where it’s all hands on deck) to a bigger nonprofit, where it provides more oversight, allowing the staff to take over most operations.
  12. Review important concepts like Mission, Vision, Values, key strategic initiatives, conflict of interest, fund-raising duties, meeting attendance and preparation, fiduciary duties, accountability, risk management, and other important items.
  13. Ask directors to describe what an effective board looks like and how it operates. Be sure to incorporate these ideas into your processes.
  14. Ask directors to provide examples of what they feel are appropriate board best practices for the agency to follow.
  15. Decide how decisions will be made. Will the basis be by consensus, majority, plurality, or unanimously, or might different level issues be decided using a different criteria?
  16. Discuss your intent to stay in touch periodically thru breakfasts, lunches, phone calls, etc.
  17. Remind them to be looking for specific type board candidates to fill next year’s slate, based on directors whose terms are expiring that year.
  18. Confirm board mentor/mentee assignments. Pair new board members with those that have been around longer, to help the on-boarding process.
  19. Share with them any issues you specifically want their help with in the coming year.
  20. Ask for feedback of your prior year performance or provide the board with your action plan in response to your recent review. How will you will do things differently, what you are working on, and what is important for the agency to have the biggest impact?

While it may be difficult to include all of these 20 items in your first board meeting, you will find that if you follow this list, you will see impressive results from your board of directors, in far less time.

New team members want to know what is expected of them, how they fit into the organization, and what they can do to make a difference. They want to understand where the organization is headed, the challenges it has faced, and the successes achieved.

If you spend a little extra time up front, setting the stage for your leadership team, and helping them better understand this role they have taken, you will find them engaged faster and more fully, and actively working to move the organization forward.

In addition to following this Kickoff List, you may want to conduct a board assessment to establish how your board is doing. Invite each director to take the Break Through Quiz, and note their results. It may be eye opening to see each of their results.