Are your nonprofit healthcare board members complaining behind closed doors? Are they frustrated that some board members are not prepared? Do they feel like their input is being overshadowed by a few outspoken members? These are some common complaints from volunteer board members, who may be feeling that board meetings are just a waste of time.
Board member dissatisfaction is a huge barrier to your nonprofit healthcare board’s work. How do you turn boring, routine meetings into meetings that are successful and productive? Here are ten tips to help make it happen:
1. Productive Agenda: Timely and Balanced
Copying and pasting an agenda from the prior meeting and making a few additions and deletions is a time-saver, but it’s also one that can carry some risk if you get into the habit of not reviewing the agenda line by line. The biggest risk in forming a hastily planned agenda is overlooking critical topics.
Balance the agenda by mixing some of the heavier items with lighter topics. If you know that a topic is going to be heavy or laden with controversy, mix it up with some breaks or follow it with something more pleasant. Improve the mood with a short team-building exercise or share some uplifting news.
2. Consent Agenda: Use It But Don’t Abuse It
A consent agenda is a useful tool for addressing routine items, but some of them may require vetting and discussion. The board should have the chance to discuss and review every item on the agenda. The secretary and the board chair should review all agenda items to be sure they are current and each is given the priority it requires.
Make sure board members get materials for items on the consent agenda ahead of time. Allow members to pull an item out of the consent agenda if they wish to discuss it.
3. Preparation Is Key: All Eyes on the Chair and Secretary
In the eyes of the board members, if the secretary and chair don’t put in the time to adequately prepare for the board meeting by getting materials to them early, it sets the stage for the rest of the board to do just as little. In fact, they may not bother to show up at all.
Another misstep is surprising board members with a lengthy proposal or controversial item that they were not prepared for. Boards do their best work when they’ve had time to mentally and emotionally prepare for whatever the agenda holds.
Download the Board Effectiveness Checklist to identify areas of improvement and apply best practices for a more effective, productive and successful board.
4. Executive Committee: In Session
The executive committee handles all matters that occur in between board meetings, and also acts as a steering committee. During these meetings, the CEO can have candid discussions with the executive committee about sensitive matters. The popularity of technological tools like email, teleconferencing and videoconferencing has made these meetings far easier. Technology has also made it easier to keep executive committee meeting attendance high.
5. Technology: It’s Only Good if it Works
Technology is a handy communication tool when it works and the facilitator knows how to use it. But there are several things that can go wrong:
- On a webinar, you can hear the host, but can’t see the slides, or vice versa
- In a teleconference you can hear someone’s dog barking or others talking, but not the presenter
- A member of a teleconference puts the phone line on hold and the hold music distracts from the presenter
- On a videoconference, you can see the other party, but you can’t hear them
Every meeting should have someone on hand who can solve any technical difficulties. When a member doesn’t get to participate, it’s frustrating for the member and the chair.
6. At-Large Members: Give Them a Job
A few board members will join the board with full knowledge of what is expected of them and how they want to contribute to the board. These are the board members who always read the pre-meeting materials, and they aren’t the ones you need to worry about. It’s the ones who don’t speak up at meetings or aren’t active on committees who may need a gentle nudge.
The chair should find a job for these members or put them on at least one committee. If they are just not good at speaking up, the board chair may speak with the member one-on-one, and either mentor the member or assign a mentor to incite some motivation. If the member still fails to get involved, it might be appropriate to let the member’s term expire.
7. Be Forward Thinking: Don’t Look Back
It’s a great morale booster to call the board’s attention to past successes, but repeating past work won’t necessarily move the organization forward.
Get the members to think outside the box and into the future. Do some brainstorming with the board to try to forecast how today’s decisions will affect tomorrow’s organization. Store the ideas that come out of the brainstorming session on your board solution to assign actions and bring them to committees to progress.
8. Make a Connection: It’s Personal
The board members are often somewhat removed from how their decisions affect patients, employees or other people and organizations in the healthcare community that are related to the board’s work. Give the board a break from their hard work long enough to see some of their work in action. Show a slide show of how their decisions have helped others or achieved organizational goals.
Give them a tour of a new facility or a demonstration of a service to show that what they do makes a difference. It could be something as simple as sharing a 10-minute personal story. Helping board members draw a closer connection to their work just might recharge and motivate the most bored or frustrated board member.
9. Allow Some Social Time
Board meetings can be a great way to network with others and get to know about other facets of the organization or those they do business with. Add some time to the end of the board meeting for people to enjoy a coffee or drink together and socialize. This also helps with team-building.
10. Controversy? Don’t Lose Hope, Just Give It Scope
A board meeting where there is controversy and disagreement among members isn’t fun for anyone. Try to remember that a diversified board with differing perspectives was planned by design, in order to take advantage of a wide variety of perspectives. The culmination of those perspectives is what drives important work forward.
Step back, give it scope. Separate your own perspective (or the perspectives of a minority opinion) by re-framing it against the bigger picture.
Make Board Engagement a Priority
A common thread runs through all ten tips — engagement. Engagement can mean attracting someone’s attention or encouraging them to participate.
When the board chair or meeting facilitator makes board member engagement a priority, board members become motivated. Motivated board members make for more effective board meetings, which will make your nonprofit healthcare organization even more successful.
BoardEffect, a Diligent brand, provides many valuable benefits for community healthcare organizations, from secure communications, easy access to key documents, streamlined agenda and meeting management, to peace of mind against evolving risks and potential costs. We’re passionate about the work of boards, which drives how we develop the BoardEffect solution, working with 14,000 mission-driven organizations supporting a modern approach to governance and powering them to meet their purpose.