A Board Meeting Should Be Like a Bowl of Wheaties

by Joan Garry

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You have a board meeting coming up.  There’s always a board meeting coming up.

Didn’t you just have one?

You and your Board Chair meet and you drone through the obvious agenda items.  It’s been so long since you’ve seen Board Member X that you wonder if she is still alive.

You’re the Board Chair and you’re thinking that if the Development Director puts up that one slide with those teeny weeny numbers all over it, you will scream.  You are both bored thinking about it.

But you know what? You’re thinking about it all wrong.

You Need to “Feed” Your Board

Board meetings are not just a series of agenda items or a treasurer report that you only pay attention to if cash flow sucks. It’s a show! You have to fill your board members’ tanks up with organizational love. It’s your quarterly “breakfast of champions” for your most important organizational champions.

Ideally a board member should leave a board meeting on a sprint;  rushing home to tell her partner or dog about the important and vital work, about how proud she is. Nay, how lucky she feels to have spent the weekend with remarkable colleagues and inspiring staff. She should still have goosebumps.

Put On a Show

Those of you who are old enough to say that you don’t read blogs (but take note, you ARE reading this!) will get this reference. A board meeting needs to be like a Mary Kay Cosmetics Convention. Women dancing, cheering and nearly insanely enthusiastic about their work with Mary Kay. Sometimes they bring in celebrities. Sometimes ‘the’ Mary Kay comes in via video (she’s deceased now so I don’t think they do this anymore.)

A CEO colleague once gave me this advice. You need to put on a show. And you need to appreciate the heck out of your organization’s most important ambassadors.

Mary Kay gives its top salespeople pink Cadillacs. No need to go that far but the words “thank you” go a long way.

Need Some Ideas? Here Are Five

1) Show ’em. Your board rarely gets to see you in action as a public figure, impressing the hell out of external constituents.  For the most part, they are in a board meeting with you and the most exciting thing you talk about is the completion of performance reviews.  Do you have any video?  Is there someone you can invite in to validate your fabulousness?

2) The inside scoop. Board members want to feel like they are part of a special club — that they know the “inside scoop” of your “industry.”  That’s a big perk. How about a guest speaker?  Bring in a big funder — maybe a key person from a foundation that already funds you.  Or an expert in your sector?  An academic?  Have that person talk not about your organization but about the larger issues in your sector.  Let them ask questions.

3) Goosebumps. Bring in folks who are touched by your work.  If you are a lobbying organization, bring in an elected official “rock star” they can brag about.  If you are a direct service organization, how about some of the folks who benefit from the work you do.  Have your lead program person or the CEO moderate.  This can be goosebump material.   Goosebumps are the breakfast of champions.

4) Coffee Talk.  Often as a board member, I felt like I didn’t get enough of the insights our CEO had about the work.  In our case the CEO had been in his job for a number of years and had history and insight that I didn’t feel like I got enough of. Apart from the business of the board meeting, how about a 45 minute “interview” with your CEO —  could be done by a board member or another person the CEO invites to participate who also has insights.

5) Friday night dinners.  Do they HAVE to be only social?  Methinks not.  I recently worked with an LGBT families organization.  Many of the board members have young children.  I suggested that it would be interesting / insightful and inspirational for these board members to glimpse into their future.  And so we invited a number of grown kids of LGBT parents to join us for coffee.  Board members arrived the next morning feeling as if the board meeting had already begun in some ways and were inspired by the young men and women who joined us.

Put your board meeting prep on auto-pilot and that’s the kind of board meeting you’ll have.  If you put yourself in the shoes of your board members or fellow board members and remember what it is that they want and need from a weekend devoted entirely to your organization, they might just leave as more than board members.  They might just leave as champions.

5 thoughts on “A Board Meeting Should Be Like a Bowl of Wheaties”

  1. I couldn’t agree more. You taught us this at GLAAD, and I now use it as the Executive Director of the LGBT Center. Board meetings accomplish a lot more when everyone is inspired. Can’t wait to read more!

  2. A stimulated board member will be an engaged board member. You always understood the value of powerful stories, not just in communicating those stories to the general public, but to the board. Taking the time out of a meeting to provide them a training similar to those GLAAD’s media soldiers — like Glennda — provided victims of hate crimes, or same-sex couples who spoke to the media about why they should get married and staying on message. If you expect your board members — your highly prized volunteers — to be the engaged ambassadors you need them to be, you have to give them the right information in the right way.

  3. While I love these ideas, for organizations whose boards meet every month, its a challenge to always keep them interesting and about more than just the work at hand.

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