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They are volunteers, too!
Look here for information and the latest techniques to develop your board or committee. The purpose is to help those who work or serve on nonprofit boards of directors or committees.

~May 2010~



Some nonprofit board meetings are big bore.  The board president and executive director (if there is one) need to work on crafting agendas that keep volunteer members engaged and wanting to come to the next meeting. 

Robert Herman and Associates, authors of The Jossey-Bass Handbook of Nonprofit Leadership and Management, found no correlation in their research between board effectiveness to factors such as board size, committee structure, or the number and duration of board meetings.

However, the way board meetings function does have a dramatic effect on a board member's engagement. If you mount mind-numbing show-and-tell meetings with predetermined outcomes you risk putting the board to sleep.

Here are some hints to improve the board meeting and accomplish your goals.

1. Organize routine items into what is called a “consent agenda.” These are topics needing board approval but not necessarily discussion.  They might include, program participation reports, the minutes from the previous meeting, or the budget report for the month.  Using quick approval techniques is a way they can be dispensed with easily.

2. If the board is tackling a new project, program, or plan, you can designing an agenda item that encourages discussion, but not decision making. Make it clear that the discussion results will go to a committee that is likely preparing a proposal for the board on the topic and is soliciting input from Board members.  The topic should be something of substance.  The summary of the discussion is not done at the time of the meeting, but at a future meeting

3. When there are issues to discuss try breaking the board into small groups for a discussion. This means that shy board members are not overwhelmed by more talkative members. It encourages speaking up and creativity, which will likely carry over to larger group discussions.

4. Consider using an outside volunteer facilitator for the discussions described in #2 and #3.  This strategy allows the president and executive director to bring their views to the discussions, too. It also prevents the president and executive director from nudging the discussion in any one direction. Be sure the facilitator is skilled in all aspects of effective group facilitation.

5.  Board members on average, spends about 10 hours per month on board duties.  It is important to frame the context of an issue during a board meeting to facilitate discussion.  It can include describing a possible strategy, or identifying the questions the board should address.  Make a practice of putting any discussion in context.

6. The board president needs to be self-educated on running meetings where discussion is the expectation.  He/she should learn to ask a question and wait 15 seconds before saying anything.  Promote discussion.  Board president and executive director need to avoid getting defensive if a member raises a concern.  People need to know that offering ideas that challenge the status quo is a good thing and expected.

7. Provide information in advance of the meeting.  Electronically or in writing the information can be read in advance.  Create an expectation for members to be prepared.  Meetings go quickly and smoothly when members know what to expect.   Some boards assign an article to read and ask that each board member be ready to briefly report three things that they learned from it. It is important to follow up during the meeting on any assignment given.

5. Set up periodic retreats away from the usual meeting site. Use the retreat to build individual and group skills that further the aims of the organization.  This is also an opportunity to do things like strategic planning.  Make it informal and get an outside facilitator.

Board members who are engaged at meetings are likely to stay longer and participate effectively.  Make board meetings about more than administrative trivia.

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