Best Practices for a Nonprofit Board Agenda
An agenda is the road map for board members to follow during meetings. In addition to being a plan for the current meeting, the agenda is also a follow-up to the prior meeting. A well-planned agenda helps the board stay on topic and follow the order of business to be discussed. Best practices for board agendas streamline meetings and encourage productivity among board directors.
Why Meeting Agendas Are Important
A well-planned agenda sets a tone for the meeting that tells the board members that the purpose of the meeting is business. The tone tells them that they’re holding the meeting to discuss specific items and to set goals for achieving things that are related to the board’s short- and long-term strategic planning.
Planning a productive agenda means that the board chair and others have decided ahead of time which items they need to discuss. Board directors should expect to receive a first draft of the agenda in enough time to request items to be added if they choose.
Well-written agendas keep the board focused on what they need to accomplish. Board chairs who keep the order of the agenda help boards move through the meeting productively. The goal in providing a draft and final copy of the agenda before the meeting starts is to eliminate excuses for not coming to meetings prepared to discuss the items on the agenda.
A 2013 article in the Harvard Business Review called “Welcome to the 72-Hour Work Week” cited an international study by the Center for Creative Leadership, which surveyed professionals, executives and business owners in the United States and 36 other countries about the number of hours they invest in their work week.
The respondents’ answers indicated that most business people work a 72-hour workweek. Many of them expressed their dissatisfaction and frustration about having too many unproductive meetings and having to attend meetings that turned out to be a waste of time because they were so poorly planned.
Following best practices for meeting agendas ensures that meetings will be as long as needed to allow for thorough discussions and yet be short enough to not impede productivity.
Best Practices for Meeting Agendas
Board members must keep in mind that they hold meetings to create value for themselves and the organization. There’s no need to hold a monthly board meeting if there’s nothing to discuss. For example, if it turns out that there are only a couple of items on the agenda and none of them are pressing, it may make sense to cancel the meeting and add the items to the agenda for the next board meeting.
Plan the Meeting in Advance
It’s never too soon to start planning a board meeting. At a minimum, the board chair or meeting facilitator should start planning the meeting a week in advance. A good board chair or meeting facilitator plans a meeting with a solid plan for knowing what the board needs to accomplish and has a timely plan for reaching that goal.
Give Clear Pre-Meeting Instructions
Board members, as well as the board chair or meeting facilitator, also need to arrive at the board meeting fully prepared and ready to work. Board chairs or secretaries should give clear, pre-meeting instructions to members and guests regarding anything that they need to bring to the meeting or prepare in advance.
Create a Board Culture of Preparedness
If you’ve ever been part of a board or committee that’s ill-prepared for meetings, you’ll have a better appreciation for well-planned meetings. The difference between poor and productive meetings often lies in the culture of the meeting members.
One of the biggest influences on board behavior is the board chair’s behavior. Board chairs who model professional behavior to their boards will find that their boards will reflect professional behavior back.
Boards can create a culture of being prepared among their members by setting their expectations high and not veering away from their expectations in practice. Boards that plan meetings in advance, start and stop on time, follow their agendas and track action items send a clear message to all board members that they need to arrive on time and come to every meeting fully prepared.
Boards can keep that culture strong by addressing those members who fly into a meeting at the last minute, forgetting items they agreed to bring. The adage of “praise publicly and criticize privately” certainly applies here. The board chair or mentor should address the offending member immediately and privately and respectfully describe how the member’s behavior affected the rest of the board.
Follow the Agenda
The board chair should call the meeting to order on time and then follow the order of the agenda in a timely manner. The chair should be certain to give all participants a voice and to push past unproductive points of discussion. Occasionally, a board member may go off on a tangent. Board chairs or facilitators will need to decide on-the-spot whether an impromptu idea is productive enough to allow for a bit of spontaneity and creativity. Board chairs need to watch the time carefully so that the board can still move through all agenda items in the allotted time frame.
Follow Up on Action Items
Work remains to be done even after the meeting ends. The board chair needs to develop a process for following up on action items. Most board chairs find it helpful to end their meetings with a brief announcement listing follow-up action items, who agreed to act on them and the time frame in which they must complete them. The board chair or secretary is usually responsible for checking in with board members who agreed to pursue actions items to make sure they completed the tasks they agreed to do.
Board chairs may delegate follow-up items to another board director.
In the end, boards that pursue their agendas with a clear purpose and a well-organized agenda set the stage for actionable discussions.
How Board Meeting Software Creates Productive Agendas
Have you considered that a board portal has the best practices for agendas built right into a program that uses automation to save time? BoardEffect is a board portal solution that allows board administrators to create meetings online and to invite members electronically. Board directors can see the board packet online as soon as it’s ready and ask for additions to the agenda if they choose. The board administrator can attach all reports and documents to the proper section of the board agenda for easy viewing online. The program automatically converts documents to pdfs. The software automatically creates a cover page and an agenda page with links to page numbers and sections of the agenda.
Board administrators can attach the board packet to a specific date on the calendar. Board directors can add sticky notes or annotations or draw freehand on the documents online. Board directors have the option of downloading the board book and printing it or following along with the agenda during the meeting using the online agenda.
The board portal is not only a huge time-saver in preparing for board meetings, but it goes a long way toward creating a culture of preparedness for board administrators and board directors.