Do you run an NGO and want to boost the effectiveness of board meetings? If YES, here are 21 smart tips on how to run a nonprofit board meeting successfully.
Nonprofits are run by boards, and the success of your nonprofit is directly proportional to the success of your board meetings because you can only implement what has been discussed and approved by the board. If your board meetings are run effectively, you would see a marked improvement in the fortunes of your nonprofit. The success of these meetings can also provide support and encouragement to your staff, so they are worth every minute you spend planning them.
Systematically preparing for your next nonprofit board meeting not only eliminates stress, but it can actually improve your nonprofit’s overall performance. Unlike the general perception that board meetings are boring, tiresome, infuriating, and stressful monthly (or quarterly) events, yours don’t have to be so.
If you are having problems keeping the attention of your board members during a meeting or if you are constantly getting excuses to skip meetings, then it may be time for you to rethink your strategies. Nothing damages board effectiveness more than poorly organized meetings that don’t stay on topic and that continues late into the night. Nonprofit board members are volunteers and they aren’t being paid by the hour, so you have to keep them properly engaged if you want them to stay with you.
Risks of Running a Poor Nonprofit Board Meeting
A poorly run nonprofit board meeting runs the risk of not contributing to the success of your nonprofit, or even hindering it. These are the risks you run when your board meetings are not properly run;
- Poor reputation: A mismanaged board meeting can turn into a mismanaged board. A mismanaged board is damaging on its own, but it becomes worse when the information reaches the public. It can mark you out as an unserious nonprofit, and no one would want to make donations to you. Being that nonprofits thrive on donations, so you would be missing out on a source of income.
- Poorly run nonprofit board meetings create frustration and confusion: Not preparing an effective nonprofit board meeting creates confusion and frustration among board members. This can, in turn, contribute to a low satisfaction among board members (that are often volunteering their time). It can also confuse and frustrate members of staff because the chaos can filter down.
- Ineffective nonprofit board meetings waste time and energy: Going off topic, endless discussions, and irrelevant commentary plague all meetings, not just the nonprofit board meetings. This can result in wasted time and energy.
21 Tips on How to Run a Non Profit Board Meeting Successfully
- Send out notifications
Even if the date for your next meeting was announced in the previous meeting, you must send out notifications as the date approaches. Book the location for the meeting and send an announcement via email to your board with the date, time and location of the upcoming meeting, attaching the minutes from the last meeting. Demand to know who is coming so as to determine if you will have a quorum, and give a deadline by which they must respond.
Ask everyone to read the minutes from the last board meeting, which will be voted on for approval at the next meeting. Ask board members who cannot attend the next meeting to submit any comments they have on the minutes. Request that any reports needing printing and distribution, such as a treasurer’s report, be sent to you early enough to make copies.
2. The Meeting Starts Before the Meeting
A board of directors meeting doesn’t actually start when everyone is sitting around a table and it is called to order. Your work actually starts long before then. Prior to the meeting, you need take care of the logistics to make the time run smoothly.
It helps to collect and send out all of the regular reports including the financials, director reports and any other business filings that need to be reviewed prior to meeting. If you send it out to the directors early, they have time to take notes, prepare questions and become more familiar with the information.
It also helps to keep surprises to a minimum at board meetings. If you have any large proposals or controversial items, it’s beneficial to give board members a heads up before the meeting. You don’t want to catch anyone off guard. This can also help you argue the merits of the proposals prior to the meeting and it gives each of the directors time to carefully weigh the benefits of each item. Again, taking some of the thinking and digesting of ideas out of the board meeting will help them run more smoothly.
3. Opening the meeting
The board chair should open the meeting by thanking board members who have made special contributions of money, valuable introductions, or other significant resources since the prior board meeting. Not only is recognition important, but it also signals to other board members what is valued and how they can help as well.
4. Begin with the Minutes
The Minutes of your previous meeting needs to be read, and each member given a copy. Give each member an opportunity to approve or to suggest an alteration. If there is an alteration suggested make sure the other members agree to alter the Minutes in the fashion suggested.
5. Set your Agenda
Nonprofit board meetings use an agenda, which is an outline of the contents of the meeting. Create one with a call to order, introduction of guests, president’s and treasurer’s reports, approval of past minutes, committee reports, new business, old business and adjournment.
Your secretary should take detailed minutes of your meeting; if the secretary will not be there, determine who will take the minutes. Having several years’ worth of previous meetings minutes will help you determine if a previous board already has set policies you are considering, or discussed and rejected them.
If you are scheduled to have a long, mentally draining discussion about a future program, following it up with an in-depth review of the next year’s budget might not lead to a productive use of your time. Keep the meeting snappy, mix in breaks and don’t let the conversations get too heavy.
Keep the energy up! By thinking ahead and balancing the agenda, you can create a meeting that allows you to tackle several serious topics, but remember not to drag it. The other half of this comes in during the meeting. Once you set the agenda, stick to it to make sure you get everything done that you’ve planned.
6. Make the Meeting about Decisions and not Updates
Your nonprofit board members are one of your most precious resources, so they should be doing at least 80% of the talking during the meeting, and that talk should focus mostly on decisions and strategic discussions, not updates and staff reports (except for the absolutely necessary ones).
Many nonprofits find that their board meetings become so consumed with information overload, that they have difficulty making time for genuine dialogue and decision making on important issues. This takes away from discussions about long-term strategic goals and how the board can add value to your nonprofit.
Seek ways to minimize large information downloads and reporting. Instead, utilize a consent agenda for approval of routine items such as minutes, contracts, vetted policies, etc. The types of items that appear on a consent agenda are non-controversial items or routine items that are discussed at every meeting.
7. Keep Detailed Minutes
While the meeting is going on, it is important to keep track of what is happening. It can be easy to get caught up in the discussion and focus on the direction of the conversation. You should also make sure that someone is taking notes on the meeting, whether it is you, the board’s secretary or someone else. The minutes should include a summary of points being made, actions steps, motions and other official actions. Taking detailed, thorough minutes during the meeting can help eliminate headaches later.
8. Team Building
If your board members are dispassionate about one another, it might not make for a very healthy meeting environment. You don’t have to play together, but you should care about the people you are working with and the board members should have an investment in what you are doing.
You should encourage sharing of personal stories and successes (during appropriate times) between board members so they get to know each other. You can also spend time at meetings doing team building activities, but make sure these aren’t forced or make anyone feel uncomfortable. The goal is the build a team and not to find new play buddies.
9. Listen and ask for opinions
Every member of your board is important. You can make them feel more engaged by making sure everyone has the chance to contribute. Sometimes board members can be quiet because they’re overshadowed by other members, but other times they are thinking the matter over in their heads and still formulating their thoughts. It’s one thing to ask them to talk, but you should also listen to what they are saying and fit it into the context of the meeting. Allow everyone the opportunity to speak and make sure the entire board has their attention.
10. Observe Robert’s Rules of Orders
You don’t need to be overly formal in your meetings (many board meetings are very casual), but having a basic knowledge of when to make a motion and when to call the question is helpful. Having a copy of accepted parliamentary rules would help in telling you how to proceed and the most acceptable thing to do.
11. Appreciate your board
Board members are volunteers who give time and money to your organization. Make out a time during meetings to make sure they are appreciated. Mention their names when appropriate in newsletters and media releases. Small gifts are sometimes useful, but don’t be extravagant so as not to be accused of wasting the organization’s money.
While this might not be tied directly to meetings, making sure that your directors know that you appreciate their work can help you have more effective meetings. If they feel appreciated, they will likely be more engaged and want to participate. While you can provide them with dinner or gifts, a thank-you note or a special gift that is unique to your nonprofit can also be just as effective.
12. Review Action Items
This is simple and straightforward, but you should review action steps for the next meeting twice, if not three times. First, at the end of each meeting review the tasks assigned to board members and the timeline for each item. Then after the meeting, send an email out the board members with another reminder of the action items.
When you send out the notice of the next upcoming meeting, you can also send out another reminder of the action steps. If your directors keep moving the work forward between the meetings it can help the actual meetings more productive.
As with anything, leading a meeting takes skill. It takes leadership, organization and clear expectations. If you follow these tips, you will be able to make your board of director meetings more efficient. Before you know it, your board will be pumping like a strong, healthy heart.
More Tips on How to Run Successful Board Meeting
a. Set Time limit
Limit the length of meetings to two hours or less, if possible. After two hours, especially if you’re holding the meeting in the evening, attention begins to wane. If you must go longer than two hours, take a break. Offering refreshments is always a good idea.
b. Pick a Good Venue
Try to find a conference room for the meeting. Holding a discussion around a conference table is much easier than holding one in someone’s living room. The table offers a place to set papers, and the environment can help your board members to mentally condition themselves for the business at hand.
It also sets the stage and implies that work is to be done. Avoid holding meetings in restaurants and cafes, if possible. The noise levels are too high to make good discussion possible, and all the activity is a constant distraction. You also have no privacy.
3. Schedule a meeting between the executive director and board president prior to the meeting
This can be done in person or via phone, but it’s an important step in determining the agenda and the focus for the upcoming meeting. The meeting also allows the executive director to update the president on staff issues, funding opportunities, and any areas where the board needs to offer additional guidance and support.
4. Stick to the agenda: Don’t allow people to wander off topic. Some agendas set the time allowed for discussion after each item. You don’t have to do this, but if your meetings have been veering off course, setting time limits may help control them.
5. Do your homework: Send out articles and resources that add value to the discussion topic or issues at hand in advance. This gives time to board members to educate themselves and be on the same page during a meeting.
6. Schedule time for committee check-ins: Time is of most value. Build time into your schedule to hear updates from committees – talking points can be added for discussion into the next meeting’s agenda.
7. Post an acronym chart: Make a poster of frequently used external and internal acronyms and post it on the wall during every meeting. This can help conversations flow better.
8. Distribute name tags at every meeting: It is easy for board members to forget each other’s names, especially if the board meets rarely. Having name tags eliminates potential embarrassing situations for your board members. It can equally help you with the introductions.
9. Share some food
Having a pot of coffee on and a plate of cookies, spreads, and crackers is good for setting a positive atmosphere. This works very well in helping build a social atmosphere that cultivates trust and the ability of the group to work together. However, you need to be careful with board dinners. Most board members are reluctant to attend a purely social event unless there’s some added value or work to be done.
10. Measure board effectiveness
Depending on your nonprofit’s culture, you may have to occasionally measure your board’s effectiveness. Do this by offering meeting evaluation forms after each board session to get feedback on whether the meeting successfully achieved its goals or have the chair or president conduct satisfaction checks.