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9 Steps for a Perfect Nonprofit Board Meeting

(Join us on Tuesday, August 30 at 1 pm EDT for a free webinar, How to Create a Fundraising-Friendly Board with fundraising consultant Barbara O’Reilly. Register now. Can’t make the time? Register anyway and we’ll send you the recording.)

Although the ferocious flurry of gathering reports to prepare packets for board meetings may be a time-honored monthly tradition for many nonprofit organizations, systematically preparing for your next meeting not only eliminates some major stress, it can actually improve your organization’s overall performance and impact.

Since much of a nonprofit’s work is actually conducted during board meetings, they need to be as efficient as possible. The simplest way to consistently achieve optimal results from board meetings is to be well prepared for each meeting.

The following 9-step process is designed to help you get into a routine of planning and executing effective board meetings. This timeline is based on monthly board meetings, but it can be easily adapted for quarterly meetings.

1. Distribute Meeting Minutes (30 days before next board meeting)

There are numerous advantages to preparing and distributing meeting minutes participants within 24 hours after each board meeting:

  • Ideas and action items are fresh in everyone’s mind. Even the most accurate minutes lose their impact weeks after the meeting.
  • A solid routine can be established which prompts timely follow-up for all action items.
  • Prompt delivery of meeting minutes demonstrates the value you and your organization have for board members.

Be sure to highlight or use a bold font to indicate strategic action plans and who will serve as lead for each item.

2. Prepare the Next Meeting Agenda (26 days before next board meeting)

Prepare a reusable agenda template that includes your standard board meeting procedures, such as approval of the previous meeting’s minutes, consent items, and standard reports from finance, committees and staff, for example. Then use the action plans identified in your previous board meeting, your organization’s strategic plan, and upcoming calendar items to generate an agenda for your upcoming board meeting.

When planning your agenda, use the STARS method:

  • Specific: Define each agenda item in terms of their intended outcome.
  • Timed: Each agenda item should have a realistic, assigned period of time for that particular discussion or presentation.
  • Actionable: Each item should initiate a definite action as a result of the meeting discussion.
  • Relevant: Each agenda item should be relevant to the whole board, not just one or two members, and the organization’s mission.
  • Shared: Provide Board Members with a copy of the agenda in advance so they can be prepared.

3. Review Action Items (24 days before next board meeting)

Review the action items assigned to specific board members, noting the timeline for each item. Give the individuals a call or send an email with a friendly reminder of the action item, offering direction and support. If you do not receive a response, send out another reminder of the action steps when you send out the notice of the next upcoming meeting, requesting a status update on the progress.

Being specific on your follow-up increases the likelihood of its successful, timely completion. Let board members know about the resources available to help them with their task. Directors, staff and even volunteers can keep the work moving forward between meetings by thoughtful, timely follow-up with individual board members on assigned action items.

4. Inform Key Staff Regarding Board Decisions, Discussions, and Future Plans (18 days before next board meeting)

Engaging your staff with appropriate, relevant discussions the board has had or is planning to have provides unique insights that only those on the front lines of the day-to-day operations can provide. This simple but often overlooked process unifies the organization, strengthening and empowering everyone involved with the mission.

5. Meet with Board President (11-13 days before next board meeting)

Have an informal meeting with the Board President prior to finalizing the agenda to discuss priorities, provide status updates on action plans, and exchange ideas and observations without the limitation of a formal, full board meeting. It will also ensure that the president and you are on the same page regarding strategic objectives and operations of the organization.

6. Prepare Packets (10 days before next board meeting)

After finalizing the agenda with any changes based on your meeting with the president, it’s time to create packets for meeting attendees. Typically, packets would include meeting minutes from the previous board meeting, an agenda for the upcoming meeting, financial documents, committee reports, and any relevant data on the organization’s performance, key functions, and current opportunities.

Online resources (like Google Docs) can serve as an easily accessible place to compile vital documents. If your organization uses these options to manage its data, it will be more efficient if materials for the upcoming meeting are accessible via a single link or zip file.

7. Distribute Meeting Agenda and Reports along with a meeting reminder (7 days before next board meeting)

A week before the meeting, send announcement reminder out to all board members along with the agenda for the upcoming meeting. Include any reports, financial statements, or research to be discussed during the next meeting. By sending all these documents prior to the meeting, board members will have time to take notes, prepare questions and become more familiar with the information, which will enhance the overall productivity of the actual meeting.

8. Stick to the Agenda (during the board meeting)

Prioritizing agenda items and staying within allotted timeframes ensures that board meetings stay focused and engaged. When things start to move off topic, find creative ways to steer the discussion back to the Agenda.

Unless there’s a birthday involved, avoid surprises during the board meeting. Nobody appreciates being blindsided. By providing merits of a proposal or unanticipated obstacles prior to the meeting, board members have time to carefully consider each item prior to convening as a group, facilitating a smooth, functional meeting.

Throughout the meeting, recognize the importance of each board member. Keep everyone engaged by making sure every person has an opportunity to contribute once they have had time to formulate their thoughts. Talking and listening should be equally encouraged, relating comments and recommendations into the context of the meeting.

Also, be sure to recognize the individual and collective contributions of the Board at each meeting. Exceptional contributions and achievements should be recognized appropriately with thank you notes, small gifts or commendations.

9. Take thorough Meeting Minutes (day of board meeting)

Obviously, the more accurate and detailed your meeting minutes are, the more effective the outcomes will be. In addition to recording the details of the meeting, incorporate a consistent method of identifying action items and the person delegated to complete them. Using a highlighter, bright colored or bold font for particular action plans is a simple but effective method to ensure they are easily referenced during the interval between meetings.

Going Forward

Streamlining processes takes time, but making your nonprofit more efficient in one area sends a ripple of energy across the organization. Support and leadership from your board can have a positive impact on any facet of your operations, but especially when it comes to fundraising. Join us on Tuesday, August 30 at 1 pm EDT for a free webinar, How to Create a Fundraising-Friendly Board with fundraising consultant Barbara O’Reilly. Can’t make the time? Register anyway and we’ll send you the recording.

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