Time Is Donor Money: 7 Ideas for More Productive Meetings
A few years ago, after taking on a new development and operations position, I was determined to find a way to maximize my workday. I examined the hours my organization spent on what I refer to as “talking to ourselves” versus engaging stakeholders and funders, only to discover that our small nonprofit of fewer than 10 full-time employees was spending at least 1,000 hours in meetings every year! (Insert gasp!)
This included 50 staff meetings—about one a week—scheduled for 90 minutes each, but typically reaching 120 minutes. That’s 100 hours annually per staff person. With about 10 staff members per meeting, this totaled 1,000 hours a year. This was time for the staff to just share updates, or show and tell exciting news from each department. With all staff invited, we were spending tens of thousands of dollars talking to each other about what needed to get done, instead of creating a plan for how to get it done—or actually getting it done.
Further, the organization held an average of 60 board meetings a year. Estimating 120 minutes per meeting, this equaled 120 hours annually per board member. With 25 board members, this totaled about 3,000 hours per year. With the value of a volunteer hour estimated at $23.56 per hour, this was $70,680 per year talking about what needed to be done!
In addition, the organization enlists thousands of committee volunteers who assist with major event fundraisers, totaling at least 1,200 hours collectively. That’s another $28,272 per year based on the same volunteer rate established above.
The fact is, time is money. Donor money.
I realized that the majority of our time was spent sitting in the meetings themselves—not in preparing for an efficient meeting or following up on next steps. This resulted in a vicious cycle of meeting after meeting where goals and objectives were moving objects.
Meeting participants would leave feeling overwhelmed by the volume of activities on deck and unclear about who was on point for next steps. They would dread going into meetings knowing that they would lose valuable time in their days.
Meetings make us look busy, feel important and give the perception of progress. But are they getting the results needed? How many times have we walked out of a meeting thinking, “I wish I could get the last two hours of my life back.” If anything, with today’s online culture, we need to counter information overload by being more focused and deliberate with our meetings.
Here are some concepts I’ve picked up along the years that help make meetings more tolerable—and even (dare I say) more productive:
- Leave kindergarten behind and keep show and tell to a minimum. Leverage email to communicate departmental updates, news and general business information. Celebrating milestones and project benchmarks is important, but it shouldn’t overshadow the purpose of every meeting.
- Make scheduling easier. Use an online tool to help match up schedules and calendar the meeting.
- Virtual meetings are your friend. Schedule virtual meetings with one of the popular and often free platforms, such as Facetime, Skype, Google Hangouts or FreeConferenceCall.com. There are many benefits to virtual meetings, including zero travel time, no need for a meeting room or meals, and the ability to screen share and distribute materials in a green and real-time manner.
- Assign time police to protect your agenda. Be respectful of everyone’s valuable time, and stick to the schedule and agenda by assigning a timekeeper. In doing so, volunteers will be more likely to participate knowing what to expect.
- Keep it short and sweet. Most of us seem to be stuck in a 60-minute rut, even though studies continue to prove that our attention span is much less. For example, TED talks are built on the philosophy of keeping presentations to 18 minutes or less to keep participants engaged. Two other presentation models, IGNITE and Pecha Kucha, deliver new information in less than seven minutes. Brevity is sure to keep your meetings interesting and your participants alert.
- Ask yourself, "Does this require a meeting?" Determine the purpose of your meeting, create an agenda and circulate it with backup material as early as possible, keep the meeting focused, assign projects, and outline next steps. Sample agendas are abundant online and can help lay a foundation.
- Ask yourself "Who is running the show?" It is important to run the meeting professionally with a system that participants are comfortable with, whether it is the parliamentary procedures of “Robert’s Rules of Order” (Google it!) or a simpler system you’ve created yourself.
Say no to useless meetings and hello to productive ones, so that we can spend more time making the world a better place.