Board Cafe: Making the Most of Time Together

Board Cafe

Making the Most of Time Together

by David LaGreca, Contributing Editor (Volunteer Consulting Group)

"Midway through the meeting--which was destined to last at least two and a half hours--I realized I was planning my schedule for the next week, writing notes to confirm plane reservations and wondering why I got involved with this group in the first place. Final note to myself: schedule a trip out of town to coincide with the next board meeting." --Board Member A

"Truly didn't begrudge the time at tonight's board meeting. The presentation on the local hospital's plans was really good and it felt good to work with them on a policy stand for the city. Even the fundraising discussion was engaging--focusing on 3-year strategies and how they reflect business analysis AND our values. AND we finished on time." --Board Member B

We've all attended board meetings and walked away feeling we had wasted precious time. But just what is it that allows the experiences of Board Member A to be so different from that of Board Member B? For those of us who lead nonprofit boards, it's not only our responsibility, but in our interest to make sure that board members feel good about their "investment" of time in board meetings. Some simple ideas:

  1. Ask the board to decide the year's agenda. At the beginning of each fiscal year, put a brief item on the agenda where board members can say what organizational programs or community issues they would like to learn more about over the coming year. Then ask the executive director to schedule these for the year and board members will be able to look forward to topics they asked for.
  2. Cancel a meeting if there's no real work to do. If the key agenda item was meeting with the auditor, and the audit isn't done, reschedule.
  3. Decide something at every meeting. If there aren't enough issues for meaningful action at every meeting, consider meeting less often.
  4. Try an unconventional place to meet as part of "stealth board education." If youÕre on the board of a performing arts organization, why not meet on stage once a year? If you're on the board of an independent school, try holding a meeting in the science lab or the school library. A food bank? Try having a meeting in the middle of the warehouse.
  5. Make sure there's opportunity to get to know one another. After all, that's one of the main reasons we all joined the boards we did! Name tags and snacks before or after every meeting. Ask the executive director to add to one of the agendas that you'll be buying the first round of drinks for board members who join you after the meeting.
  6. Work with the executive director to put together a readable, relevant, INTERESTING board packet. Make sure that it goes out to board members at least a week ahead of time.
  7. Finally, make sure EVERYONE says something during the meeting. If you're chairing, invite quiet board members to speak by asking them directly for their opinions on the topic at hand. If youre not the chair, you can involve others by saying, "Sylvester, I'm wondering what YOU'RE thinking about all this."

Original publication date: 05/11/1998

© 1998 CompassPoint Nonprofit Services