|Think back to the last meeting of the Board of Directors for your organization. If you were to summarize that meeting in just one word, what word would most accurately describe that meeting? This is a question I routinely ask in training sessions on board development. The range of answers is broad and at the same time very revealing about the organizations. Some of the answers reflect well on the experiences. Those include words like exciting, engaging, stimulating and productive. Other answers are equally telling, but not very positive. Among these are boring, tedious, frustrating, long, chaotic and contentious. Then there are the answers that require digging a little deeper to discover what all is encapsulated in that one word. These include tense, heated, provocative and intense; this list leaves one wondering if healthy discussion and respectful debate and dialogue were taking place; or if things were nasty resulting in dissent and division.
Board meetings should be meaningful, effective and productive. These are the times we have assembled those who are most engaged, committed and supportive of our organization and cause. [If this is not the case in your organization, then that is a high priority issue that must be addressed. Click here for additional articles on engaging and building a strong board.] Board members are investing their time and talents in our organizations and we should maximize this investment by seeking to make the most of this time and get the best thinking on the most important issues and challenges confronting our organizations.
– Develop an annual calendar for the board including times and locations for all meetings. Ideally the Board Chair and Executive Director should work together to develop the agenda for each meeting. If your organization utilizes committees, then be sure to check with each committee chair to determine if board action is needed on any items. Prioritize the agenda to ensure there is adequate time for discussion prior to board action.
Board members should receive the printed agenda at least one week before the board meeting. Board members should also receive any pertinent reports or information with the agenda. This allows them time to review the information and begin thinking about the issues before the meeting. This helps board members fulfill their “duty of care” to the organization and enables them to prepare for the meeting and ask better questions in the meeting.
Each organization should adopt some sort of protocol to ensure meetings are orderly and structured and discussions are respectful. The protocol should also provide a clear guide for decision making. Many nonprofits use Robert’s Rules of Order as their official parliamentary procedures.
The board chair is responsible for guiding the meeting and ensuring the meeting follows the intended agenda as closely as possible without stifling discussion and debate. Meetings should begin and end at the published times.
Take a few minutes at the conclusion of each meeting to decide what items need to be included on the agenda for the next meeting and what resources (staff or reports) should be involved.
Effective board meetings are essential for organizational success. Board members should leave meetings feeling they were a good use of their time and that they made significant contributions to the leadership of the organization. The organization should benefit from the collective wisdom of the board and have clear guidance for the future. If this does not characterize your board meetings, then begin conversations with board members to identify the issues and develop a plan to address them.