Better Board Meetings
What do you talk about at your board meetings?
Non-profit organization boards are usually made up of volunteers who have full time jobs and families that demand their time as a priority. Using the board meeting as effectively and efficiently is a discipline that we all have to master to ensure more productive meetings.
What is the purpose of a board?
Before considering what you talk about at board meetings lets resist some fundamentals of board function and governance. There’s only one answer to that question: The purpose of the board is to do governance, the process carried out by a group of people to ensure the health and effectiveness of the corporation. It doesn’t matter what type or size of organization. It doesn’t matter if you’re young or emerging or highly sophisticated. The board does governance at its meetings. In fact, the only time that governance happens is when the board convenes at its meetings.
What are the elements of board governance?
Governance is the processes of ensuring the health and effectiveness of the corporation. These are things like defining values, mission, vision, and overall direction – and adhering to same. These are things like defining the rules of governance, e.g., bylaws, policies, recruitment and election of board members. Defining the performance expectations of board members. Hiring, appraising, and setting compensation for the executive director.
So what do you talk about at board meetings?
Again, meetings are for governance. Reading reports and other preparations should be done before the board meeting. Don’t waste time reviewing reports – unless it’s a precursor to an important conversation. Instead, design board meetings for strategic conversation about important items. I've seen this happen often. As far as possible, come to a board meeting prepared to make decision and execute governance. If you need more info on a decision up for a vote, connect with the task champion before the meeting and get the info you need. Task champions should ensure that info and reports get to board members with sufficient time to review, answer follow up questions and get prepared for the board meeting. One week before the meetings should be an adequate timeline.
Be mindful of staff input. The board may talk about information provided by staff. And it’s up to the staff to put together the right information, to explain and answer any questions required by the board.
Board meetings require intentional design and good facilitation. Board meetings should be a gathering of wise and experienced people who talk about important things. Sometimes the board makes decisions. Sometimes the board learns and explores through conversation, preparing to make decisions in the future. Definitely, board members ask strategic questions exploring the best options available to the organization. Board members probe to ensure that they are drawing on information that is accurate, insightful, and useful.
Robert’s Rules of Order is a go to source for agendas. Think outside this box. Instead, design the agenda based on what is most important to your organization at this time. Handle routine matters quickly. Put the most important items at the top of the agenda. Provide adequate background information in advance of the meeting so that board members come prepared.
Don’t talk about management stuff. Even if you’re a small organization, don’t talk about management stuff at board meetings. Even if you’re an all-volunteer organization, don’t talk about management stuff at board meetings. You must talk about governance, do governance, at board meetings.
How does a board ensure that it is informed on all important that matters?
Anticipation is easier than crisis reaction. Anticipate issues and challenges. Ask questions. Pay attention, be diligent in your governance. Maybe add “red flags” and “rusty nails” to the end of each meeting agenda, anything that may challenge the organization and prevent the realization of its vision, mission, values and goals. Board members should probe without suspicion or insult. Remember that big questions enable big answers. Ask and you will receive.
This is important!
A majority vote carries the decision of the board. All communication about decisions must be addressed at the board meeting. Make sure to ask members if they have any last thoughts, unanswered questions or unaddressed issues before closing the meeting. Once a decision is carried by the board any discussion of such outside of the board room must present a united front. If you are in a minority position on a vote or board decision, do not sabotage the decision of the board by undermining the boards chosen actions in conversations with others, outside of the board. Stand behind the majority decisions of the board, support and promote a presentation of unity to the community and sow the seeds of a holistic and healthy board and community consciousness. Triangulating and parking lot propaganda campaigns sow seeds of mistrust and destroy the unity of a board and are a cancer in the consciousness of a spiritual community. Avoid this at all costs.
Adapted from an article by Simone P. Joyaux, ACFRE. SPJ is recognized as an expert in board and organizational development, strategic planning, and management. She is the founder and director of Joyaux Associates.
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Clive deLaporte, LUM