What Makes A Board Meeting A Home Run?

Me? I wouldn't pick that number.

Me? I wouldn’t pick that number.

Some of you may be thinking, “Home run board meeting? Joan, you’re kidding right? We’re lucky if our board members aren’t checking Facebook and texting the whole time.”

But for effective nonprofits (like yours I hope!) board meetings aren’t necessary evils. And they are not (should not be) a passive experience.

You probably have at least a vision of what a good board meeting looks like. If you need a refresher, here are ten good questions board members should be asking. This should help.

But this isn’t about what makes a good board meeting. This is about what makes a GREAT board meeting.

Does it have something to do with the content of the meeting? Clearly that’s critical.

But even the best board meeting will fall completely flat and won’t be worth the time and energy you put into unless…

FINISHING OFF THE SWING

Several years ago I took up racquetball. I’m an “all-in” sort of woman, and so of course I got a coach. Why learn a new sport if you aren’t going to master it? But that’s just me. It drives my kids a bit mad sometimes.

My coach tells me that the biggest difference between a good shot and a great one is “finishing off the swing.” Yup. Follow through.

And now you know the answer. Follow through.

Follow through is what will take a good board meeting and make truly great.

But just like my racquetball swing, it’s not just any follow through. Technique matters.

So here’s HOW to follow through.

THE RIGHT KIND OF FOLLOW THROUGH

Here are five to-do items that will enable you as a CEO or board leader to turn a good meeting into a great one. It’s the stuff that follows “We stand adjourned” (assuming you and your board follow (nay, know) Robert’s Rules of Orders.)

  1. Action Items vs. Minutes.

Taking accurate board minutes is an obligation of every organization. Somebody has the clear responsibility to capture the discussions in summary and be sure to note any vote that occurs on anything.But who captures action items? Every single discussion results in some follow-up item. It could be a stumper question from a board member that requires staff follow up or a commitment a board member makes that will require additional work or a new approach the staff has agreed to explore.

Where are those captured? Who manages that list? Where’s the accountability?

I suggest the following:

  • During each staff presentation, a colleague should be assigned to capture action items and related notes. How did the board react? Were there any commitments made by the board or staff?
  • During board conversations (executive sessions for example), the board chair should summarize the discussion and the secretary (who is not taking notes during this session) should be asked to capture action items.
  • Every session of the agenda should have a summary in which the board chair and CEO summarize the discussion and verbally agree on the action items from each session.
  1. Appreciate

Both board chair and CEO should send an email that should be waiting for each board member and every staff member who participated as soon as they arrive home or sit down at their desks first thing the following workday.

Don’t wait on this. Do it immediately. On the plane ride home if need be. (That is also, by the way, when I put together my own list of action items.)

No plane ride? Just make time for it. These folks deserve thanks for their service. And the faster the thank you’s arrive the more powerful they are.

  1. Leadership Debrief

The board leadership of your organization (chair and CEO) should schedule a debrief within 5 days of a board meeting. This should be set BEFORE the board meeting. 90 minutes. Take each agenda item and talk about what worked and what didn’t. Share what you heard from board members about the meeting.

And then agree on all the action items. What are they? Who will be accountable for follow up and getting those action items done AND (this is important) communicating the status of those action items to the board and senior staff where possible.

  1. Track Progress of Action Items 

Make this a standing item of your regular CEO-Chair calls/meetings. Where does everything stand? What does each party need to do to move the action item closer to being checked off?

Make this an agenda item for the executive committee meetings. Have the chair and CEO report on follow up items from the board meeting.

  1. Include the Action Item List in The Pre-Board Materials

Just give a brief update on the items and their status. It offers board members continuity since your last meeting and increases the accountability for all parties.

How many times have you been at a board meeting and heard statements like:

“Oh yea, didn’t we talk about that a few board meetings ago? I don’t remember what happened with that?”

 “I thought that was already taken care of.”

 “Oh, was I supposed to do something about that? I wish someone had reminded me.”

 This process can reduce these kinds of comments, decrease frustration all around, and create a more effective board staff partnership.

One last thing. If you’re reading this and thinking, “We don’t really have action items to follow up on after the board meeting,” I ask you to dig deeper.

Every single board member should have follow up items assigned to both staff and board. If you are not running a board that results in specific follow through items, revisit your board meeting philosophy and structure.

A meeting without action items that lead to more communication, more information, more context, more accountability and a generally more effective organization? What kind of board meeting is that?

And remember: the partnership of board leader and the staff leader is the key to an effective nonprofit.

Keep reading and sharing!

Joan Garry
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Joan Garry

Widely known as the "Dear Abby" of nonprofit leadership, Joan works with board and staff as a strategic advisor, crisis manager, change agent and strategic planner. Joan also teaches at the University of Pennsylvania with a focus on nonprofit communications and leadership.
Joan Garry
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  • Billy Estes

    DO you have any examples of this laid out in form ? Thanks Billy. I love your blog !!

    • Billy. Thinking about a lot more downloadable templates in 2016 so stay tuned. Happy New Year!

      • Jeff Guyett

        So, an action item for Ms. Garry, then? 🙂