If you’re anything like me, when a new year begins you think about your big priorities.
What can I do to have the biggest possible impact? What boundaries can I set to make sure I have time to focus? After all, when you say no to one thing, you can say yes to something more important.
And as you begin to think about your big priorities for this year, it can start to feel daunting, right? Not just because the list is long. But also because of the “lift” associated with some of them.
Maybe you need to manage someone out.
Maybe you have been approached to acquire a smaller organization.
Maybe you have to grapple with a lack of diversity in your revenue stream and you’re planning to launch an individual giving program.
And there’s another reason it all feels so daunting. So much of it depends on you. It sure feels that way, even if you have a sizable staff. Even if you have a terrific board.
For reasons you don’t quite get and don’t have time to figure out, your board takes so much time to get stuff done. It adds to your plate when ideally your board should be leading with you.
What if I told you there’s a move you could make with your board that could be a total game changer? And what if I told you it’s not complex at all.
I believe I may have your attention..
The short answer: Stop boring your board members.
How? By renovating your board meetings.
I know. Boring board meetings were not on your already very long big priority list. You may be thinking, “Joan, you are supposed to help me work smarter, not harder.”
This advice will check that box. I promise.
10 STATEMENTS YOU WANT FROM BOARD MEMBERS
Let’s start with the end in mind, shall we?
We want to get board buy-in from the get go. Because however your board meetings are planned, whatever the agendas look like, I bet that most board members wish for something different.
Here’s what we want them to think at the end of each board meeting…
- I left feeling proud that I was a part of this org.
- I learned about the work we are doing and I can’t wait to share it with my friends and family.
- My voice was valued as we worked with the E.D. to untangle a big knot / explore a new opportunity.
- I learned something that helps me understand the systemic root problems that have led to the challenge we are working to solve.
- I am more equipped to be an enthusiastic ambassador who can cultivate new relationships for the organization.
- My time was valued; the meeting was well planned and executed.
- I feel I need to fulfill my duties.
- I learned about my fellow board members as people, not just as resumes,
- It was exciting to see that our committees are doing important, smart work.
- The E.D. and staff reports were informative, compelling, and inspiring.
Yes, I know this list feels aspirational, perhaps even north of aspirational. But imagine what would be possible if your board members left board meetings feeling many of these.You would be nurturing thought partners and leaders who could tackle some of your priorities for the year with you.
IT ALL BOILS DOWN TO THIS
All 10 of these statements boil down to a simple equation:
Inform + Enrich + Engage = Ignite
Let’s be honest. Boring board meetings never get past “INFORM” and board members leave these meetings and their mission light is not brighter; in fact we generally run board meetings that risk snuffing that light right out.
But we need to remember that each board member arrived with their light shining for the work of your organization. (Note: if they didn’t, revisit how they landed on your board). The job of the E.D. and the Board Chair is to ensure that this flame is stoked.
My equation is simple. A board member should be informed, should learn something that enriches their understanding of your work, and they should have a voice that is understood to be valuable.
If you do those things, you’ll get board members with brighter mission lights who will go home and utter the ten statements you want to hear from board members – the ten statements that reflect how your board members are anxious to feel about board service.
LET ME FLESH OUT THE EQUATION
This is typically where the most time is focused before and during a board meeting and often information is repetitive with materials sent ahead.
Think differently about how you inform during your board meetings. For a finance presentation, what is the story the numbers are telling? For an executive director, your board presentation should not just be informative – it should be inspiring and filled with impact stories.
As a board member I am seen as a leader in the sector, not just at the organization. How can I learn more about systemic root causes, about the work of other colleagues in the sector or in our community.
Two ideas: Bring in a sector expert, a funder, a client. Another messenger who can help enrich me and get me out of the weeds. Or send an article out ahead of time and allocate time to discuss the article and its implications.
Don’t just tell board members their voice matters. Show time. Even asking them to help you renovate boring board meetings is a start!
I was an executive director and I know that there are times when your board just doesn’t know enough, is not close enough to be able to help think through a challenge. But that shouldn’t lead you to boxing them out.
One approach that can help you frame discussions and get valuable input: Present an issue you are facing. Ask your board, “What questions should we be asking as we tackle it?”
Another approach works well too. Present a strategic decision that needs to be made along with several paths the organization could take. Ask the board – how should we be approaching the decision about which path to take? What do you see as the pros and cons?
Engagement can also look like this: a storytelling workshop where board members develop stories and exercise their ability to talk to folks about the organization in a clear and compelling way.
And oh by the way. The better you are at informing and the more you commit to enriching the more valuable the engagement will be and the more board members will feel valued.
And that gets us to ignite.
Inform + Enrich + Engage = Ignite
5 PRACTICAL STEPS TO GET TO IGNITE
- Share this blog post with your co-pilot (board chair or E.D.) and use this planning tool to set anchor topics for each board meeting of the year. Then start building out enrichment opportunities based on these anchor topics.
- Assess your last few board meeting agendas against the equation.
- Secure input from the board – share this blog post along with the agenda from the prior board meeting. Use a survey monkey to garner input.
- Design the first board meeting based on my equation.
- Have every board member fill out a meeting evaluation form.
I feel really strongly that board meetings are huge missed opportunities for nonprofits. How often I hear about board meetings that were endured, boards that are not engaged, low attendance at meetings.
Is all of that about them? I don’t think so.
Renovate your boring board meetings and find out just how valuable your board can be.
Make this a new year’s resolution. No more “bored” meetings!