Flip the Agenda at Your Next Volunteer Board Meeting
How many meetings have you participated in throughout your career? I bet you have several meetings a day.
If you work in a not-for-profit organization, you constantly have meetings with staff, administration, volunteers and/or combinations of these groups. As you move up the leadership ladder, you are given the task of creating agendas for these meetings. Anyone can create an agenda, but making the agenda come alive is another story.
When participating in a meeting as a staff leader, concentrate on the agenda and what you have to say. Like any production, focus attention on factors such as timing of the meeting, time allowed for each speaker, handouts or audiovisuals to be used, and the desired end result for the meeting. Each meeting should be one step in a constant series of meetings.
Make sure the agenda is comprehensive and the materials are relevant but not overwhelming. Start the meeting on time and finish on time. Also make sure the expectations for each meeting's speaker is clear and the meeting flows. As a staff leader, provide guidance to the volunteer chair, who is typically responsible for directing a volunteer-focused meeting.
With respect to the agenda, constantly watch each participant during the meeting to determine his or her engagement level. As usual, this level is a mixed bag from totally involved to those who play with text messages. Seek feedback from meeting members. It's a great way to improve the meeting process. Many times, you just have to learn by doing.
In a fairly recent meeting, I created an agenda that reflected staff presentations at the front end of the meeting and time for discussion by the volunteers at the back end of the meeting. I noticed that when there were staff presentations, while good, the communication was only one-way and very time-consuming. On an overall basis, volunteers did not seem interested in the meeting. This process left little flexibility for the volunteers to speak and engage. I then made the smart decision at the next meeting to flip the agenda.
At this meeting, which consisted of staff and volunteers, I placed open discussion by volunteers on key germane topics at the front end of the meeting. I provided staff materials for reading by the committee in place of oral reports. If time allowed, I provided staff oral presentations that were in sync with the subject matter discussed. In this flipped agenda scenario with greater focus on volunteer involvement and ownership, the volunteers came alive. There was immediate personal opinion sharing, personal experiences given, laughter and a renewed sense of commitment.
Each volunteer participated in the discussions at hand. The meeting was so good it actually lasted longer than scheduled, but no one minded. I attempted to enhance the process by explaining a problem we were having and how I needed the attendees' advice and counsel. I also relayed a new idea and wanted their feedback. I loved it because I felt two-way communication that I had not felt before in that setting. There was plenty of feedback - and plenty of smiles! A member of the committee attending his first meeting commented on how positive his experience was in watching this meeting unfold.
The moral of this story is simple. Flip the agenda, and let your volunteers run the meeting with your help. As this was a development/marketing committee meeting example, several unsolicited members said they would personally identify two to three new prospects to review at the next meeting. My volunteer chair and I plan to meet in advance of the next meeting to seek ways to continue this momentum shift.
Never stay satisfied with any meeting, agenda or process. It is everyone's responsibility to drive time, talent and treasure to your organization. Don't be afraid to let others drive your car.
F. Duke Haddad, EdD, CFRE, is currently associate director of development, director of capital campaigns and director of corporate development for The Salvation Army Indiana Division in Indianapolis, Indiana. In addition, he is also president of Duke Haddad and Associates, LLC, and freelance instructor for Nonprofit Web Advisor.
He has been a contributing author to NonProfit PRO for the past 13 years.
He received his doctorate degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis on education administration, master’s degree from Marshall University with an emphasis in public administration and a bachelor’s degree from West Virginia University in business administration, with an emphasis in marketing/management. He has also done post graduate work at the University of Louisville.