Being a nonprofit board member is an important position, but there are times in which these meetings become a burden, especially when they are not run efficiently. Any board can take steps to more effectively and efficiently govern their nonprofit.

A board’s overall purpose is governance of the nonprofit, which includes oversight of financial, legal, and management matters. The board keeps the nonprofit on the “right track”, consistent with their overall mission. Responsibilities also include short-term and long-term strategic planning, fundraising, and encouraging community support.

The first step to an effective board is new member training. All incoming members should have clear expectations set for their role. One way to communicate these expectations is during a board orientation session. This is a great opportunity to give them the information they need, such as the overall mission, history, etc. Another suggestion is to set up new board members with mentors. This will help guide the new board member through the transition period and also help build strong relationships between fellow board members.

The next step is planning the meeting to fully utilize everyone’s time. Efficient boards should receive a board packet before each meeting. This packet should include an agenda, committee reports, financial information, and any other items deemed necessary for the meeting. The agenda should list out all items and expectations for each item. For example, if an action is required for an agenda item include blank lines to document motions. A time limit can also be included for agenda items based on an estimate of discussion time required. The board packet should be reviewed prior to the meeting and board members can print any information they need for the meeting. The packet does not need to be provided again at the meeting.

Review your overall agenda; there may be items that could be better summarized in a written report rather than taking time during the meeting. For example, committee reports or staff reports are common agenda items, but it may benefit the board to get a written summary in the board packet and use the meeting time for discussion of the summary instead.

On the day of the meeting, there are some other actions to implement as well. First, make sure the meeting room is comfortable. Consider serving food and beverages, maintaining a comfortable room temperature, and laying out the tables to encourage discussion.  A u-shape layout is recommended when grouping smaller tables. Posting the agenda gives an expectation of the meeting topics and discussion items as well. Starting on time will also keep a meeting running smoothly and establish an expectation for members to be on time.

Consider delegating the facilitator duties to someone other than the Board’s chairperson. The facilitator is in charge of keeping the meeting in line with the agenda and time limits assigned. He or she may also help brainstorm for ideas during discussions and discourage meaningless conversations. Part of the facilitator’s duties is to also amend the agenda as the meeting progresses. If a time limit is met during the meeting, the facilitator should have the board determine whether to move an upcoming agenda item to another meeting to allow additional time for discussion of the current issue or defer the current issue to another meeting. Also, be prepared to reign it back in; discussing items not on the agenda often wastes time as no preparation time was available prior to the meeting for meaningful discussion.

Participation of members is an important part of any board meeting. The facilitator should monitor this and involve everyone. The facilitator could directly ask for the opinion of board members who do not participate, which also discourages domination of discussion by one member.

What about difficult board members? Personalities of board members can range from those who do not want to participate to those who can over promise and not deliver. Many of these issues can be addressed during member orientation. Setting up specific expectations helps to curb non-participation or over-zealous members. The facilitator can help to discourage and move on from negative comments. The chairperson of the board must also get to know their board members and recognize when anyone may be over promising. For example, if the board member is consistently not following through, the chairperson should communicate with them privately to determine if the items should be reprioritized or reassigned.

Board meeting efficiencies do not stop at the end of the meeting. The chairperson should send communication to each board member detailing out action items with specific deadlines. This communication could also request recommendations to improve board meetings.

Communication is key to making board meetings more efficient and effective. Change may be difficult in the beginning, but the overall effect on the board will be well worth the difficulties.

Questions or comments? Contact Shelley Goodrich [email protected], Sandra Weaver [email protected], Traci Hanson [email protected], Jackie Maguire [email protected], or Rebekah Wolkenhauer [email protected]. We are also available to discuss these items with your specific board. Call any one of us at (605) 342-5630 for more details.

Ketel Thorstenson held a Brown Bag Seminar in July regarding this topic. Above is a summarization of the presentation. If you would like further information on future presentations regarding this, or other topics, please contact Beth Hottel at [email protected] or 605-716-8893.