As the first board members arrive at the board meeting, the tone for the meeting is already being set. When all board directors are in their seats before the meeting starts and each of them has fulfilled their commitment to preparing well for the meeting, it sets the tone for how to conduct a board meeting for a nonprofit that’s efficient and productive.
Productive meetings support and encourage board members and staff. A nonprofit board meeting that has a well-planned agenda and a polished facilitator improves the overall performance of a nonprofit and helps it move closer to its goals.
Boring Board Meetings Are Inefficient and Unproductive
Perhaps you’ve been to a board meeting where the focus of the meeting is everywhere except on the agenda. Board members are checking their email messages, texting their friends or doodling on the paper agenda in front of them. These are pretty clear signs of a boring board meeting that needs some help in running more efficiently.
If you’re going to the time and trouble of learning how to conduct a board meeting for a nonprofit, it’s important for everyone to give it their best. When a nonprofit board doesn’t function well, it creates frustration and confusion among the board members. Nonprofit board members who aren’t invested in their work experience low satisfaction, which can lead to volunteering less, donating less and eventually dropping out.
Poorly run board meetings also have a negative impact on the executive director and staff. It’s no surprise that they’d also end up confused and frustrated. The result is that they won’t do their best at their jobs or promote a positive image of the nonprofit, which will hinder the overall progress of the organization.
How to Run an Effective Nonprofit Board Meeting
Conducting a nonprofit board meeting begins weeks before the meeting ever starts. Plan the basic agenda about a month before the meeting. As the meeting draws closer, send out an announcement to all board members with a draft of the agenda.
Attach the financial report, any committee reports and any other information that board directors need to read ahead of time. The more information board directors can get ahead of time, the less time they’ll spend reviewing it during the meeting, which leaves them more time for discussion.
Board packets should be well-organized and easy to read. This will give board members enough time to review the information and arrive at the meeting prepared to discuss it and to ask questions.
One of the mistakes that nonprofit boards make is not managing meeting time well. The first rule of meetings is to stop and start on time. If someone makes it a habit to arrive late, don’t make a habit of starting late to accommodate them. If you make a practice of waiting for tardy board members, they’ll make a practice of arriving late on a regular basis. Essentially, you’re training people to arrive late and the meetings will keep getting pushed back later and later. If you always start on time regardless of who is there, you’re training people that meetings always start on time, and if they’re not there, they may miss something important.
Set a time limit for the meeting. Most nonprofits find that about two hours is the most they can be productive. Be especially conscious of board members who work full-time. If they’ve worked all day and attend a meeting at night, they’re apt to be tired. If you notice board directors are getting weary or distracted, it helps to take a short break about halfway through the meeting.
Creating and Distributing the Nonprofit Board Meeting Agenda
Think of the agenda as a roadmap for the meeting. Just as you don’t want to slow down on the highway or get caught in a roadblock, you want your meeting to flow smoothly and not get stuck or unable to move along.
A quick internet search will yield a host of samples for a basic agenda format. A basic agenda includes a call to order, approving the previous board meeting minutes, committee reports, new business, unfinished business, announcements and, finally, the adjournment.
Nonprofit boards that have a lot of business to discuss may use a consent agenda to approve routine items such as the prior minutes, contracts or vetted policies. These are routine or non-controversial items with which boards are usually in agreement. If a board director wants to discuss something on the consent agenda, they can move to have an item pulled from the consent agenda before the board votes to approve the items in the consent agenda.
Many nonprofit boards opt to write the mission and vision statements at the top of the board agenda so that they become familiar with them.
The meeting planner should prioritize the meeting agenda according to their strategic goal, as the idea is to work toward fulfilling the strategic plan. It’s also important for agenda preparers to ensure that the agenda items are directly aligned with the nonprofit’s mission.
One way some nonprofit boards keep in touch with their mission is to have occasional guests make presentations during their board meetings. Having one of the recipients of the nonprofit’s work attend a board meeting and tell their story, or having an employee of the nonprofit talk about a typical day’s work, goes a long way toward motivating the board to do its best.
Every meeting needs a skilled board chair who can keep the meeting moving along. It’s best if the board chair is familiar with Robert’s Rules of Order and how to use motions and other rules to keep the meeting moving along productively. A skilled board chair encourages full board participation, allowing dissenting opinions to be heard respectfully, and doesn’t let one or two board members dominate the meeting.
Using Board Management Software to Prepare the Agenda and Board Meeting Packets
BoardEffect offers a board management software system that streamlines the process for creating an agenda and board meeting packets. The whole process can be done online, and boards can distribute meeting packets electronically, complete with board reports and other meeting materials. The software includes a template that makes it easy to complete the agenda within seconds.
Conducting a nonprofit board meeting is easy once you have the right tools, which include an efficient agenda, a skilled board chair and a board management software system by BoardEffect. Add a little practice, and nonprofit boards are off to a good start toward doing the good work they’re known for doing.