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The Do’s and Don’ts of Running a Great Nonprofit Board Meeting

The best board members will trample each other to the exit door, and hand in their resignations by the weekend, if board meetings are poorly handled. So… DON’T

The best board members will trample each other to the exit door, and hand in their resignations by the weekend, if board meetings are poorly handled. So…

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DON’T

  1. Allow the CEO (executive director) to lecture the board.
  2. Let committee chairs recite a series of reports, one after another.
  3. Fail to provide financial information, and in a clear format.
  4. Allow board members to chat on about irrelevant matters.
  5. Let the board get involved in discussions about day-to-day operations, unless they’re related to a larger strategic decision.
  6. Allow contentious board members to hijack the meetings.

You’ll attract and retain the best board candidates, and get the greatest value from them for the benefit of the organization and the community, if you…

DO

  1. Start board meetings on time and end on time.
  2. Make sure people know who everyone is. Quickly going around the table with introductions is helpful. So is having largely printed name plates at each place.
  3. The board chair leads the meeting, with the CEO (executive director) at the chair’s side.
  4. Board materials are sent out 4 – 5 days in advance–clear, relevant, and concise, including the agenda, minutes of the prior board meeting, a CEO’s report of activities, the dashboard (metrics showing organizational activity according to mission and core programs), committee reports, and financials.
  5. Extra copies of board materials are available at the meeting.
  6. 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.
  7. Routine matters are addressed at the top of the meeting, including the presentation of the minutes of the prior meeting by the secretary of the board, and the presentation of the financials by the treasurer (which should have been carefully reviewed by the treasurer with the CFO and/or CEO prior to the board meeting).
  8. The CEO and the board chair should each make BRIEF presentations. The CEO’s focus is where the organization is in terms of what it seeks to accomplish (note the dashboard mentioned in #4 above), what adjustments have or need to be made, and key external forces that relate to the organization. The chair’s comments should focus on the role of the board and how the board can help advance the organization. Both CEO and chair should remind the board of the mission. And at least one of them should tell a meaningful and first-hand story about how the organization has recently made a difference in the life of a person, family, or the community–a story to inspire and a story that people are likely to repeat to others.
  9. The centerpiece of the meeting should be a robust board discussion around a key strategic, organizational decision (examples: a strategic alliance, a new fees for services revenue opportunity, a move to a new site, adding or eliminating a core program). This should be led by the board chair with the CEO. There should be thoughtful preparation for this board discussion, possibly with two or three options presented in a concise presentation for the board to consider. The board might not be asked to make a decision at the meeting; this might be a decision that will take more time to decide. But the board should be engaged in understanding the matter and sharing their diversity of perspectives and expertise. The board chair should make sure that the conversation is inclusive. And the board chair should conclude the discussion by explaining the next steps and the timeframe in the process to address the strategic matter.
  10. Although committee reports should be sent in advance, there should be brief discussion around key committee topics, perhaps emphasizing one or two at each board meeting. Fund raising and development should always be a key topic, and the board chair and committee chair should be role models and leaders in engaging board members in “giving and getting.”
  11. The chair should conclude the meeting thanking board members, and the host, and providing a brief summary of next steps, noting how board members can be helpful to the organization from then until the next board meeting. And the chair should remind board members of the date, time, and location of the next board meeting (which should be in an annual board calendar).
  12. After the board meeting, the chair should make sure that the CEO, staff, and committee chairs follow up to engage board members in advancing the organization by providing expertise, making introductions to prospective donors, and making contributions.

You want people to leave the board meeting more deeply educated about the organization, having had an opportunity to engage in a key strategic issue, and inspired about the work of the organization.

It’s also important to help facilitate board member visits to the sites where the organization performs its work, even if that’s global.

About the author

Korngold provides strategy consulting to global corporations on sustainability, facilitating corporate-nonprofit partnerships, and training and placing hundreds of business executives on NGO/nonprofit boards for 20+ years. She provides strategy and board governance consulting to NGO/nonprofit boards, foundations, and educational and healthcare institutions.

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