22 Signs Your Board Meetings Suck

by Joan Garry

Board meetings don't have to suck. Actually, your members should be able to walk away feeling energized about your nonprofit's mission. Here's how.

Good boards have good board meetings.

Great boards have… well, you get it.

So riddle me this Batpeople… how are your board meetings? Do your members leave feeling energized and ready to be the best ambassadors they can be for your organization? Are they properly prepared ahead of time? Do they understand their roles and responsibilities and stay engaged between meetings?

Or maybe there’s some work to be done.

It’s time to introduce more accountability to board chairs and Executive Directors who kinda dread board meetings. So I have designed a checklist filled with indicators of a board meeting gone bad.

I have seen most of these with my own eyes and then there are the stories that go on for days.

After your next board meeting, your E.D. and board chair should sit together and review this list. If you’re showing more than a few of these signs, you have some real work to do.

Here we go…


    1. 15 minutes in, a stranger has no idea who is running the meeting.
    2. Or the stranger presumes the E.D. is running the board meeting (news alert: the board meeting should be run by the board chair).
    3. The meeting seems to go beautifully – staff presentations are clear and there are no questions. Actually, the board does not ask a single question (with the possible exception of, “I’m sorry – what time are we scheduled to end the meeting? I may need to leave early.”)
    4. You can tell there is a group text going on among board members – and there is enough mirth to suggest that it is not board-related business.
    5. Your board meeting is a conference call and there’s no video.
    6. The agenda is identical to the last meeting; in fact, so identical that someone forgot to change the date.
    7. Board members leave feeling that absolutely nothing is a challenge.
    8. Board members leave feeling that absolutely EVERYTHING is a challenge.
    9. No one pays attention and you run out of time before getting through your agenda.
    10. There is no reference to any productive activity of a committee.
    11. The word “committee” is never uttered.
    12. Someone speaks for longer than 2 minutes and is not asked to wrap up.
    13. Someone else speaks for longer than 2 minutes, is not asked to wrap it up, and repeats everything in the prior 2+ minute monologue.
    14. A board member who never attends actually shows up but the only evidence of his attendance is his empty bowl of M and M’s.
    15. The words, “I would love to hear your thoughts” are never uttered by the E.D.
    16. The voting process is so awkward that people start laughing. The board chair joins in the merriment and says, “I’m sure there are some rules we should be following. Joan (E.D.) can you put that on your list.”
    17. A cell phone rings more than once.
    18. A board member leaves the room because of a call and does not apologize. She simply says “Oh, I really have to take this.”
    19. There is a conversation about the upcoming gala and the word “centerpiece” is uttered at least once.
    20. At least one board member falls asleep.
    21. Staff in attendance are relegated to a corner of the room and are not seated (like partners) at the conference table. Your meeting really sucks if the staff have their own kids’ table.
    22. Not a single story is told about a life your organization has touched recently.


OK so my tongue was firmly planted in my cheek when I wrote this. But this is the reality at many board meetings.

How many of these signs felt familiar? If you checked a lot of these boxes:

  • You have work to do.
  • You are not treating board members with respect.
  • You simply cannot expect them to be effective ambassadors for your organization, inviting people to know and do more.

In my next post I will offer some practical antidotes for many of the items above. Board meetings do not have to be like this. And it doesn’t take much to get them right.

Stay tuned.


Want to add another sign to the list? Please do so in the comments below!

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