Most not-for-profit board members are unpaid volunteers. They’ve agreed to serve, because they care about your mission and the impact your organization is making. You owe it to them to make the job as easy as possible — starting with well-organized board meetings that are only as long as necessary.
Setting the Agenda
The key to effective board meetings is good planning. Once the meeting date is set, your executive director and board chair should prepare an agenda. To ensure the meeting will cover all pressing concerns, email board members to ask if there’s anything they want to add.
For each item, the agenda should provide a timetable and assign responsibility to specific members. Include at least one board vote to reinforce a sense of purpose and accomplishment, but be careful not to cram too much into your agenda. Otherwise, the meeting is likely to feel rushed and some items may need to be postponed to a future meeting.
Distribute a board packet at least one to two days before the meeting. This packet should consist of the agenda, minutes from the previous meeting and materials relevant to new agenda items, such as financial statements and project proposals.
Keeping Things Moving
Start with a short pre-meeting reception that allows members to chat. Some board members have little time to spare, but most will welcome the opportunity to get to know their colleagues. Staff should help facilitate communication by introducing any new members to the group and ensuring people mingle.
During the meeting itself, your executive director and board chair should stick to the agenda and keep things moving. This means imposing a time limit on discussions and calling time when necessary — particularly if one or two individuals are dominating the conversation.
Encourage a vote after a reasonable period. But if your organization requires a consensus (as opposed to a majority vote), the board may not be able to reach a decision in one meeting. If members need more time to think about or research an issue, postpone the decision to a future date and move on.
Finally, end the meeting on a positive note: Remind board members why they’re there and thank them for their time.
Board meetings can’t be effective if there’s no follow-up. Find answers and supporting materials for any questions that might have arisen during the meeting and make sure unresolved items are placed on the next meeting’s agenda.
Also ensure that board members are fulfilling their commitments to your organization and fellow members. If their busy schedules are impeding them, step in and help. If the issue continues, consider replacing the board member.