The Electronic Newsletter Exclusively for Members of Nonprofit Boards of Directors
Short enough to read over a cup of coffee, the Board Café offers a menu of ideas, opinion, news, and resources to help board members give and get the most out of board service. Co-published by CompassPoint Nonprofit Services and the National Center for Nonprofit Boards. Chef / Writer: Jan Masaoka. January 26, 2001. Vol. 5 No. 1. Ready-to-print version at: http://www.boardcafe.org .
So many Board Café readers distribute copies to fellow board members, friends and colleagues, we've taken two steps to make it more readable when you do so. Board Café will continue to be in email format, but for those of you who want a formatted version with logo and all that jazz, there will be a link to a ready-to-print version in each issue, too. This issue's "main course article" is on board meeting packets-and many thanks to the 50 readers who sent in such thoughtful comments. - Jan Masaoka
LEGAL HANDBOOK ONLINE
Got a question about your liability as a board member? How can an organization minimize its risk for actions of volunteers? What's the scoop on legal issues for nonprofits? Here's a great resource from the Alaska Bar Association; some of the items are specific to Alaska law, but as a whole the handbook is easy to read, has many examples, and explains the basic approach a nonprofit board can take to protect itself, the organization, volunteers and clients/patrons. http://www.iciclesoftware.com/vlh .
FLYING UNDER THE RADAR: ALL-VOLUNTEER ORGANIZATIONS
The e-Volunteerism newsletter is adding a new regular section on all-volunteer organizations. Seems this incredibly important part of our communities is finally getting more attention! They're starting with summarizing a study on all-volunteer groups called "Flying Under the Radar: The Significant Work of All-Volunteer Organizations", conducted by CompassPoint (one of the Board Cafe's co-publishers). This website has a great set of contributing editors; it costs $40/year to subscribe to this site: http://www.e-volunteerism.com .
WHAT TO SAY WHEN YOU CAN'T THINK OF WHAT TO SAY
Have you ever been at a board meeting and something happened that made you feel uncomfortable, but you couldn't think of what to say? Maybe something got passed a little too quickly, or a board member said something you found offensive, or a committee makes a half-hearted, flimsy report. You might try saying, "I don't think I'd be doing my job as a board member if I didn't say something about what just happened. I'm not sure what to say, though . . . does anyone else feel the same way? If not, I'll let it pass." That might prompt others to voice their own concerns as well..
2001: A NONPROFIT ODYSSEY
The nonprofit comic strip, Planet 501c3, imagines what the famous movie "2001: A Space Odyssey" might have looked like if it had been filmed on location in a nonprofit organization: http://www.compasspoint.org/publications/planet/index.html .
Now for this month's "Main Course" at the Board Café:
BOARD MEETING PACKETS
by Jan Masaoka
As both an executive director and a board president (of CompassPoint and the San Francisco Foundation Community Initiative Funds respectively), I'm on both sides of the board packet question. I know the staff's temptation to send a ton of stuff, the better to inform and impress the board. I also know the board member's tendency to run out of time to read the material, but still to be annoyed if the materials are either late or questionably useful.
More than 50 Board Cafe readers sent in their comments about what they like - and can't stand! - in board meeting packets. Reading through all the letters, I realized that board members feel disrespected when board packets are late or sloppy, and feel railroaded when background information isn't included for an upcoming decision. The angry comments from board members over irrelevant or unexplained materials express anger over the message they are getting from staff about how the organization's staff values and respects the board's ability, authority, and responsibility to make decisions. A thoughtful packet not only provides the board with the information it needs for the meeting, but increases board confidence in the staff and in the board-staff relationship.
Board members want information that will be needed for the next board meeting. If approval of a new program or a new budget is on the agenda, a clear statement of the proposal must be in the packet, along with identifying who (staff? a board committee?) is bringing the proposal and what their thinking or rationale is for the proposal.
Board members want enough time to read the packet, and some organizations send the packet by email as well as by regular mail, so that board members can access the packet from wherever they might be.
Critical, but often overlooked: meeting location, directions to the meeting, hotel phone and fax (if board members travel to the meeting), and an annotated agenda (explaining, for example, who will be making a report and what action will be called for). Also: text large enough for board members to read easily (one Board Cafe reader's organization that serves the blind prepares its packets in Braille, too), and names and phone numbers of people to call if there's a question about a given item.
Brief and USABLE updates on priority matters, especially financial status. In financial information, board members want to be able to tell - either from the statements or from a cover memo - whether the organization is on budget, is financially sound: in short, "should we be worried?" Other matters - funding updates, program updates, special news about staff or the board - can be covered in an executive director's report or in a series of brief program reports. If other items such as journal articles are included, let board members know what they should be looking for - is this "deep background" or is there an upcoming organizational decision for which this material is relevant?
- Board members don't want to read things that will be repeated at the board meeting, and they also don't like routine committee reports at board meetings. In other words, put committee reports in the board packet, and don't include the report on the agenda unless there is action needed on a proposal from the committee. DO allow for questions about written reports, and say a word of thanks to committees who submitted reports but who are not giving verbal reports at the meeting.
**My favorite idea: survey the board members (in writing or at a board meeting discussion) every couple of years and ask THEM which components of the board packet they like best, like least, and what they'd like to see that they don't!
You are reading the BOARD CAFÉ, published monthly by CompassPoint Nonprofit Services (formerly the Support Center for Nonprofit Management) and the National Center for Nonprofit Boards. CompassPoint: 706 Mission Street, 5th Floor, San Francisco, CA 94103; (phone) 415-541-9000; (fax) 415-541-7708; Silicon Valley office: 1922 The Alameda, San Jose, CA 95126; (phone) 408-248-9505; (fax) 408-248-9504; (e-mail) firstname.lastname@example.org  , (website) http://www.compasspoint.org  . National Center for Nonprofit Boards: 1828 L Street NW, Ste. 900 , Washington, D.C. 202-452-6262 email email@example.com  ; website http://www.ncnb.org  We welcome your comments and contributions to the BOARD CAFÉ.
If you would like your own free fax subscription to the BOARD CAFÉ, contact the Board Café at any of the numbers listed above. If you would like to have the BOARD CAFÉ delivered to you free via electronic mail, send an e-mail message to firstname.lastname@example.org  and in the body of the message type SUBSCRIBE BOARD CAFÉ. To unsubscribe to the BOARD CAFÉ, type UNSUBSCRIBE BOARD CAFÉ in the body of the message, or fax your request to 415-541-7708. The Board Café's e-mail/fax list is not rented, exchanged, or given to any other entity.
© 2001 CompassPoint Nonprofit Services/National Center for Nonprofit Boards