A Better Approach to Nonprofit Board Agendas
The meeting will come to order! The prescriptive approach to nonprofit board meetings looks like this:
- Call meeting to order
- Roll call
- Executive director report
- Committee reports
- Announcements (mostly around fundraising events)
- Vote to end meeting
I do not believe this prescriptive order of board meetings is neither serving the function of engaging a nonprofit board in governing nor even exciting the board about doing so. Therefore, I propose a different approach that evolves board meetings to best fit organizational needs, generate board enthusiasm, create a reality of accomplishment and even stimulate joy versus dread for the meeting.
Board Meeting Structure Framework
My framework informs my proposal for an alternative board meeting structure. I believe board members and the board to be the surrogate owner of a nonprofit on behalf of the nonprofit’s constituents, donors and the general public. They do in fact have legal responsibility for the well-being of the nonprofit but, of course, do not personally profit from its efforts.
To fully perform the role of “owner,” board members must undertake fiduciary, strategic and evaluative work. This work is then accomplished by developing policy, planning and evaluation.
My proposed framework for a different board meeting structure relies on a few principles.
First, board members and meetings should be informative and results-focused.
Second, fully informed, and results-focused discussions are best when a committee or task force understands, organizes and presents with recommendations what is an agenda item. Also, note I prefer task forces over standing committees as participation is short-range and offers a clear, single-item focus.
Third, a working board is different from a board that works. A working board focuses on fulfilling the fiduciary, strategic and evaluation roles. A board that also works fulfills the volunteer staffing needs of the organization.
When there is only one or very few employees, the board that works will need to have conversations about what are the needed jobs and how to do them. These conversations should be separate from the working board conversations by either ending the working board meeting and turning to these subjects or having a separate meeting at another date particularly if not all of the board members are working board members and members that work.
New Approach to Board Meeting Agendas
Relying on this framework, I propose a board meeting structured around the work of the board. Yes, I am proposing that the meeting agenda be informative, engaging, results-focused and organized based on the role of the board. The meeting agenda would look like this.
A check-in includes recording for the record who is present and asking each member to share something about themselves since the prior board meeting.
2. Fiduciary Matters
Fiduciary matters include a report from the finance committee that presents the nonprofit’s current fiscal well-being and status. In addition, this agenda item should entail time for Q&A (for clarity and for training) and a discussion about any areas of concern (e.g., cash flow, outstanding grants, potential financial issues or concerns given the economy, state of the government or other external factors).
3. Strategic Matters
Strategic matters can include a report, discussion and any policy or other planning report from the strategic planning committee, other program-related committees and task forces. While strategic planning task forces tend to only be established for a once-every-three-to-five-year period to complete a plan, such a committee might also be convened to periodically ensure an assessment of the plan’s implementation.
Other similar strategic matters may include human resources, as well as a building, program or development task force. Specific actions from strategic conversations can either be prospective or action on policies or plans.
4. Evaluation Matters
This agenda item focuses on providing the data or information needed to inform policy and planning activities. The data presented here should have been vetted through a committee or task force and presented for discussion to inform the fiduciary and strategic discussions. This subject is a place for informing policy and planning activities pertinent to strategic and fiduciary matters. This activity is an evaluation function and can include policy and planning activities, like addressing cash flow challenges.
5. Review of Incomplete and New Discussions
This agenda item makes a list of incomplete discussions that should be included in the next meeting, as well as any new discussions that need to be assigned to a task force or committee.
Board meetings need not be boring routine affairs with little conversation and even fewer results. Changing the structure to mirror the role of the board can be a big step toward members being clear about their roles, fully informed for decision-making and results-focused.
The preceding post was provided by an individual unaffiliated with NonProfit PRO. The views expressed within do not directly reflect the thoughts or opinions of NonProfit PRO.