One of the common complaints/concerns we hear from nonprofit leaders is that board meetings are dull, uninspiring, and board members are unengaged. Ideally, board members should leave every board meeting excited about the work being done and inspired to help the organization move forward. But, these types of board meetings do not happen without work and preparation.
Many organizations get stuck building the board agenda. The board president and the organizational leader should develop the meeting agenda collaboratively. Instead of looking forward, much of the meeting is spent looking in the rearview mirror (past month’s financials, the Executive Director’s report about their accomplishments, etc.). It is very challenging for us to get excited about the past; however, we can get excited about the future! Routine reports can be moved to a consent agenda, requiring a single vote to approve all the information contained within. Then, instead of spending valuable board time on the past, the board can be guided to look forward.
The agenda topics should be relevant to the work of the organization. Consider including a “mission minute”, for program staff members to highlight their program and share how it is changing lives. Why is this important? Telling stories is a powerful means of communication. Board members may not remember data about the number being served, but they will remember stories about changed lives and will take the stories out into the community with them.
The agenda should also include information about key trends or new research that could or already is impacting the work of the organization. Allow time for board members to brainstorm about steps the organization should take. These discussions are perfect opportunities for board members to use their skills, connections, and expertise to support the organization.
Too often, agendas are being developed just a day or two before the board meeting. Organizations must commit to providing board members with a complete board packet at least one week in advance of the meeting. Doing so increases the likelihood that board members will read the packet, be prepared to discuss issues, and make decisions.
Executive Directors tend to focus on the operations of the organization. Since they are “in the weeds” on a day-to-day basis, it is easy to begin talking with the board about these types of issues. However, the board of directors is not responsible for operational issues. Instead, the board is focused on strategic issues that provide an opportunity for input and not simply a “yay” or “nay” vote.
It may help to use the questions below to guide conversations during the board meeting. Note; pick and choose a couple of questions each meeting to guide the conversation, do not plan to use all of the questions at one time.
- What do we do really well? What capabilities or resources set us apart from other organizations?
- What do our stakeholders really care about?
- How can we really make a difference in our community?
- What new things (services/programs) do we plan to pursue in the future?
- How does the organization need to grow and change to meet the needs we address? (Staffing, location, new programs, etc.)
- What is the effectiveness of our programs and services?
- What should we be doing more or less?
- Where do we currently get our financial resources? Is this changing, if so, how do we prepare for the future?
- What sets us apart for donors? Is our messaging clear?
- What have we accomplished in the last 6 months, in the last year?
- How do we measure success for the organization?
- How do we measure success for those we serve?
- What roadblocks exist that could hinder our plans or our progress?
- How can we better communicate with the community?
These questions are just a sampling of questions to get board members involved and engaged while thinking strategically. Prior to expecting the board to think strategically, ensure all board members have participated in thorough board training.
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