Board Cafe: The Strategic Board Agenda

Board Cafe

The Strategic Board Agenda

By Thomas A. McLaughlin


Executive Director's Report: Technology plan update
Finance Committee Report: Analysis of overall agency profitability; Analysis of new program profitability; Cash flow report; Proposed change in insurance agency
Nominating Committee Update: Report on new candidates
Program Committee Report: Documentation of need for new program.

The repetitive nature of this agenda, consisting entirely of reports and updates, is obvious. For a board member seeking to use skills and knowledge to advance the cause, it is depressingly flat. The homogeneity of the agenda obscures any signals about what is important and what is not. There is no indication how this meeting relates to any other meeting or to the overall mission of the organization. No one has much fun with this type of agenda, and very little is likely to get accomplished. Now look at the revised agenda below:

Expand Educational Program into East Side: Documentation of need (Program Committee), Analysis of program profitability (Finance), Potential board member from East Side (Nominating)
Increase Profitability: Analysis of overall agency profitability (Finance); Proposed change in insurance agency (Finance)
Development of Information Systems: Discussion of new technology plan (Executive Director); Consideration of capital investment needs (Finance)

This kind of strategic agenda planning has two advantages. First, it draws board members away from the inherently backward-looking nature of reports and updates and involves them in future-oriented discussions and debate. The first agenda compartmentalizes material, while the second makes it easier to see the linkage between the items and the overall purpose.

A second advantage is that it creates a sense of momentum and teamwork toward a common goal. The goals board members worked so hard to identify during their strategic planning retreat show up exactly as crafted on every board meeting agenda. Members know that they will be able to engage in the dialog, and the back-and-forth nature of committee material makes it easier for them to engage in the discussion because there won't be long stretches of time when they are expected to be passive listeners.

This has been adapted and reprinted with permission from Thomas A. McLaughlin, author of Nonprofit Mergers and Alliances: A Strategic Planning Guide. His email address is

Original publication date: 12/23/2002

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