Effective Board Meetings

I believe that this is my last article comparing leading a staff team to leading a team of governance volunteers. If you haven’t been following along, but are curious to learn more, check out my previous articles on this topic:

What I have observed in working with and speaking with hundreds of nonprofit leaders, is an interesting disconnect. Whether it’s Board Chairs, who supervise and lead staff for their paid job, or Executive Directors, who lead a team of employees to deliver the work of the organization. These folks are often highly skilled when it comes to supervising and managing paid staff. Then, when it comes to leading a group of governance volunteers, they struggle. That was the motivation behind my last several articles comparing these two types of teams. 

I often say that all business is people-business. And when it comes to the nonprofit sector, that statement can be multiplied by 100. Everything about leading a nonprofit comes down to the ability to work with people. Relationships drive programming, funding, governance, partnerships, vision, impact and more. It doesn’t matter if you are speaking with your paid staff, volunteers, friends or your spouse, healthy communication is the foundation of strong relationships. 

Board Meetings as Special Events

One of the main communication systems most nonprofits have in place for connecting with their volunteers the regular board meetings. Hopefully this is not the only communication system, but it’s a pretty important one. So much so, that I have always thought of a board meeting as a special event. 

Think for a moment of the  Board of Directors as an adult leadership program. This program supports the volunteers governing the organization, and also helps develop even stronger and more passionate volunteer leaders. Running this program involves engaging different volunteers in a variety of aspects of leading the organization. This could include leading a committee, doing research, advocating for the organization, friend-raising, and more. Then the board meeting is when it all comes together. 

Like with a special event, a lot of planning, communication and preparation go into ensuring that it’s a success. The March article on communication goes into a detailed process on how-to and what-to communicate with your volunteers leading up to and following a board meeting. Ensuring everyone knows when the meeting will be and its content is important, but it’s just a small part of planning this special event. 

Components of Effective Team Meetings

Whether your team is made up of paid staff, or governance volunteers; meetings are a critical tool for effective communication, collaboration, and problem-solving within any organization. An effective meeting requires careful planning and execution to ensure that everyone is engaged, productive, and focused on the team’s objectives. 

  • Clear Objectives: Every meeting should have a clear purpose and objectives. If you don’t know why you are bringing people together, it’s worth evaluating the value of the meeting. Generally with board meetings we are looking to do some or all of these things:
    • Connect volunteers to the mission
    • Ensure everyone is well-informed and on the same page
    • Educate volunteers on their role and/or skills development
    • Problem-solve
    • Team-building
    • Strengthen communication
    • Address official business
  • Agenda: A well-planned agenda is a critical component of an effective team meeting. The agenda should be distributed to all participants a minimum of one week before the meeting, along with any pre-read materials or preparation required. The agenda will help keep the meeting focused and ensure that all relevant topics are covered. My recommended board meeting agenda is as follows, and is similar to my staff meeting agenda:
    • Welcome/Opening – In addition to introductions, this is a great time for a mission moment spotlighting the work of the organization. (Connecting volunteers to the mission.)
    • Segue – Have everyone share some good news, both personal and professional. This provides a transition from what they were doing before, to this group. It also ensures that everyone speaks at least once in the meeting. (Team-building.)
    • Approval of Minutes (Address official business.)
    • Customer/Employee/Board Headlines – Note anything worth celebrating or acknowledging. (Connect to the mission. Team-building. Strengthen communication.)
    • Operational Announcements (Strengthens communication.) 
    • To-Do Items – Review any action items from the previous meeting. Are they completed, progressing, or off-track? Any off-track items drop down to the Discussion section. (Strengthen communication. Identify issues needing problem-solving)
    • Committee Reports – High level presentation of the work of the committees. Vote on initiatives when appropriate. Drop any issues down to the Discussion section. (Ensure everyone is well informed. Problem-solving. Strengthen communication.)
    • Discussion Items – All of the previous items should be addressed fairly quickly, leaving half or even two-thirds of the meeting time to focus on your Discussion Items. If there is a long list, as a group choose the 3 most important topics that need to be addressed. Give each topic 15-minutes. If you get through all items, pick the next most important one to discuss. (Skills development. Problem-solving. Strengthen Communication. Address official business.)
    • Conclusion – At the end of the meeting review any action items or assignments made. Discuss any outward communications that need to come out of this meeting, and who will handle it. (Ensure everyone is well-informed. Strengthen communication.)

You can grab a copy of my recommended board meeting agenda here.

  • Active Participation: Effective meetings require active participation from all team members. Otherwise, why are they there? The meeting leader, usually the Board Chair, can encourage this by asking specific people for their insights, going around the room and having everyone contribute, or breaking up into smaller groups for in-depth discussions. 
  • Time Management: We are all busy and time is a precious commodity. Effective meetings require good time management. Consider assigning a time-keeper to keep things moving along and minimize tangents. Effective meeting time management can bolster engagement when volunteers know their time is respected and used effectively.
  • Action Items: The point of a meeting is to make decisions and move the organization forward. As stated above, capture action items and next steps during the meeting and assign ownership and deadlines. Review at the end of the meeting and put these items on the agenda for next time, so they don’t get lost. This will help to ensure that decisions are acted upon and progress is made.

If you have not been thinking of your board meetings as a special event, give it a try. It establishes a greater sense of importance and production. Running quality board meetings can be one of the most effective strategies you implement in attracting and retaining quality board members. People want to know why they are coming together, they want to use their time effectively, and they want to see progress. Thoughtful and intentional board meetings can be the backbone needed to advance your work. 

Make Sure Everyone is Prepared

In addition to sending out agendas and assignments in advance of the meeting, everyone should know their role in the meeting. If you have a committee chair giving a report, review it with them in advance. Without guidance, they may end up just reading the minutes from their last meeting. Coach any who will be speaking or presenting on what and how they should approach the assignment. There is a bit of orchestrating that goes into delivering a quality board meeting special event. 

Timing is Everything

Finally, I highly recommend that your meetings have a set day and time. This way volunteers can have an entire year’s worth of meetings on their calendars. They can plan around them and communicate when there are conflicts. If yours is a brand new board, and you are still figuring out when that best time to meet is, use the input of the group, and then set the time that works best for everyone. As early as possible, establish that standing day and time. 

When it comes to frequency, I think monthly or every other month is best. Any less frequent, and you totally lose any momentum that you gain at the meeting. There are exceptions. For example, if you bring people in from all over the country/world. Or if your agency’s focus is on an event that happens once a year. For those who bring the board together less than every other month, it will be important to develop a robust committee structure or other work to keep your volunteers connected to your cause and to the important work of governing your agency. 

I love helping organizations evolve their board meetings from “sit & gets” to engaging and robust systems for advancing their work. Email me at Kim@Athena-CoCo.com, or schedule a Discovery Call to discuss creating board meeting special events that will drive your organization’s success! 

Kim is a mom, lover of being active and the outdoors,
and helper of nonprofit leaders.

You’ve Got the Power!


If you’ve been reading my newsletters for any amount of time, you may notice a recurring theme. I have written about several different topics. Something that comes up in a lot of them is the importance of choosing your mindset. In order to make positive changes in just about any aspect of your life, your business, or your career; it starts with the right mindset. Here are some examples: 

  • Building a Positive Culture = first you must decide that this is important to your business, READ MORE
  • Staff Leadership = this requires a leader who thinks about and genuinely cares about their staff, READ THIS or THIS
  • Effective Communication = starts with making it a priority for everyone in your company, READ
  • Problem Solving, Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, Self-Care, the list goes on and on!! 

Today I want to talk about the power you have to create a mindset that will take you where you want to go. 

So often in life things get busy and we just move along from one day to the next, handling all the things. It’s so easy to do! An article from Forbes on Brand Success states that we are exposed to 4,000 to 10,000 ad messages every day. In addition, experts estimate that we have between 35 and 55 thoughts per minute. So every second or two we have a new thought rushing through our mind. Think about that for a second! 

With all these messages coming at us and all these thoughts we’re experiencing, it’s hard to be focused and intentional. It’s much easier to go with the flow and simply react to what is happening around us.


Intentionality is defined as the act of being deliberate or purposeful. A good way to understand intentionality is to consider what the opposite looks like. Perhaps you have experienced a leader, coach or teacher who goes about their role in a way that seems almost accidental or unconscious.

  • The leader runs the department or business, but they don’t think much about how they do it or why. They just think about the bottom line or the outcomes. 
  • The coach leads the practices, but doesn’t make adjustments based on the strengths of the individuals or the characteristics of the team. 
  • A teacher might be teaching the same curriculum they have taught for 20-years, not considering the need to change as society evolves or as the needs of their students change. 

The unintentional leader (or coach or teacher) leads from a point of status. Things are done a certain way because they are the boss, and so apparently they know best. In my observations, this is an example of ego getting in the way. Decisions are being made based on the leader’s ego rather than what’s best for the organization, the business, or the people involved. 

The intentional leader has a markedly different mindset. They make decisions based on what is best for the company or organization, even if it’s not necessarily what is immediately best for them personally. When making decisions the intentional leader considers the impact that it will have on the clients and staff. Additionally, this leader is keenly aware of what is going on in the community, the country or the world, and how those factors impact their decisions and the perception of those decisions. 


As stated above, an intentional leader considers how their actions affect others. But really, it’s more than that. It’s making the decision to be considerate of others; that the leader isn’t better or superior just because of their position. This comes from a leader’s mindset. 

A selfless leader sees everyone on their team as having the ability to contribute to the success of the business. They seek input from those at all levels of the organization. They see the power in the team as whole, rather than the power created by their leadership. 

Selfless leaders realize that by helping staff succeed they are supporting the company, and in turn probably reaching their own goals. To help staff succeed the selfless leader:

  • Supports each individual in the way they need to be supported. 
  • Creates an environment where staff enjoy their jobs and respect the company.
  • Learns about the goals of their team members and helps support achieving them.


Intentionality and Selflessness are two key components to being a great leader. The question is, if those are not things that come naturally, how do you get to that point? That’s where mindfulness comes in. 

Here is a definition of mindfulness that I like. It comes from Jon Kabat-Zinn: “The awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally to the unfolding experience moment-by-moment.” This is a great definition when it’s all together, but it’s also interesting to look at it in chunks. Breaking it down helps us understand the value of mindfulness for leaders.

  • awareness emerges – The leader doesn’t have all the answers. (No one does.) 
  • through paying attention on purpose – By taking the time to thoughtfully observe, we learn.
  • in the present moment – The leader is fully engaged in the current situation, not what’s coming next or whatever happened before. 
  • non-judgmentally – There are no preconceived notions clouding our thoughts, we take things at face value.

With all of the messages and thoughts we have going through our brains all day, it’s not easy to remain aware, present and non-judgmental. We have to work at it. Just like you practice cooking or yoga or Portuguese, mindfulness takes practice. 

The good news is that you can practice anytime and anywhere. Here are 5 super simple activities for practicing mindfulness. 

  • 4-7-8 breathing: Breathe in for a count of 4. Hold for a count of 7. Exhale for a count of 8. Repeat 5 times. 
  • Mantra Meditation: Find a quiet place. Choose a word or phrase you would like to focus on (such as “peace” or “I am present”). Close your eyes. Take deep breaths and repeat your word or phrase (out loud or in your mind) with each breath. If your mind wanders, notice it and draw your thoughts back to your word or phrase. Practice for a minute or two.
  • Mindful Eating: While eating, pay particular attention to all of your senses. How does the food look? How does it smell? How does your body/mouth react to the smell? How does it feel when you put it in your mouth? How does it change as you chew it? Chew twice as long as you normally would. How does that experience feel? Practice this for the first few bites of your meal or snack. 
  • Nature Walk: You don’t have to be in the woods to observe nature all around you. Even in a city there is weather and wind, clouds, birds, bugs, smells and more. Take a few minutes each day to observe nature. This can happen while you walk from your car into your office building or by taking a fresh air break. Simply take the time to notice the natural world. 
  • Body Scan: Start at your toes. Wiggle them. Spread them wide. Flex and release. Move to your whole foot. Do the same. Work your way up your body. Moving, rotating, flexing and releasing each body part or muscle group. Finish with a few deep breaths. This can be done at your desk or anywhere.

Practicing mindfulness helps train our brain to stay present when we might otherwise want to be reactionary. It allows us to be intentional in our thoughts. Through mindfulness we decide how we feel about things and how we react. 

The kind of leader you are should be a conscious decision, not something left to happenstance. What kind of leader do you want to be? 

Want to explore mindful leadership? Email me at kim@athena-coco.com to schedule a free 30-minute discovery call to find out how you can Calm the Chaos by choosing your mindset! 

Kim is a mom, wife, lover of being active and the outdoors,
and helper of nonprofits, small businesses and leaders.