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:
- Board Culture
- Supervising Governance Volunteers
- Board Appreciation
- Dealing with Challenging Board Members
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
- 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.