One of the most common complaints from board members is that board meetings can last too long and accomplish too little. Since board members tend to be volunteers, it is important to be respectful of their time and put it to the best possible use. Here are some best practices that we have found contribute to more effective and efficient board meetings.
Before I begin the details, I will acknowledge that changing is not always easy. There is sometimes a culture that needs to be changed and this is often very difficult. However, you need to be persistent if you are changing the culture. Your board members will eventually be happier if you are successful.
First, we strongly recommend that you set an agenda and send it out in advance of the meeting so that board members can prepare. On the agenda, mark action items so that board members know that their attendance is important and their vote is required. Finally, we recommend that you prepare minutes promptly after the meeting and distribute the minutes to all interested parties so they can review it while their memory is still fresh.
Second, how are issues brought to the board? The board should consider only issues that are on the agenda. The chair of the board, in cooperation with the executive director, should set the agenda. Board members can suggest items before an agreed-upon deadline, however, if an item is brought to the chair or the executive director after the deadline, it should be deferred to a later meeting to allow for study unless it is truly an emergency. Deferring it to a later time will allow people to prepare for that subject.
Third, we strongly recommend that written reports be sent in advance of the meeting so that board members and staff have a chance to review them. One of the reasons board meetings go on for too long is that people spend time at the meeting reviewing reports and then thinking out loud during the discussions. Sending meeting reports out in advance hopefully will give Board members time to review them and formulate questions, so that the meeting can be more focused.
Fourth, send the monthly financial statements in advance of the meeting. We also recommend that the treasurer point out highlights of the statements to make board members more aware. In addition, as an aside, we recommend that you train board members on the basics of reading financial statements. Board members will be better able to make strategic agents if they understand.
In planning board meetings and carrying out a board meeting, it is important to remember that the Board of Directors is supposed to think strategically. It should not get mired in the day-to-day operations of the organization. It is the staff’s job to carry out the day-to-day operations. If you find that the board gets mired in details, consider discussing the problem or adding it to board training. This is often not an easy problem to fix, but it is important because staff will resent the board’s intrusion on their job.
Finally, what if a board member disagrees with the board’s decision? Make sure the dissenting board member’s decision is clearly entered in the board minutes. However, the dissenting board member is still part of the team and should not sabotage the board’s decision. If the board member disagrees so strongly with a decision, the board member should consider resigning. If a board member obstructs the board, then the board does have an option of removing the obstructionist board member. However, this is not something you should exercise lightly.
If you follow these recommendations, you will find that board meetings will be more productive and will often take less time. This will make it easier to find board members and will result in a happier board because the organization is being respectful of its time.
We discuss these and other points in our board training sessions. If you have questions or concerns about how your board operates, please give us a call.