Quality Meetings Depend on Quality Agendas
I have attended countless meetings of boards and other groups in my career. In this role, I have had to work with a number of administrators on how to create a meeting agenda and effectively direct a meeting.
We all have been in a variety of settings where one person dominates an agenda or spends way too much time on meaningless agenda items. We all have seen agendas that have time amounts allocated for each item, but are never followed. Meetings that should be over in an hour balloon to more than two hours.
At a certain point, members get tired or uninterested in the meeting or spend too little time on the most important issues. How many of us take meeting agendas for granted? Since meetings are an important part of our business life, we need to better understand this topic.
Oxford Dictionaries defines an agenda as “a list of items to be discussed at a formal meeting.” But listing items is just one element of an agenda. Other elements include specifying who will be the speakers and what items are most important.
As I am reviewing this topic, note that having clear and concise meeting minutes are also very important. You need to have an account of what happened. Without effective minutes, you lose accountability and focus. Make sure you have an agenda created and distributed to all participants in advance of a meeting.
In “5 Key Elements of an Effective Meeting Agenda,” Randi Hicks Rowe explained that an effective meeting must begin with a carefully conceived agenda. What are the hallmarks of that agenda? According to Hicks Rowe:
- Key Objectives. Write down a one-sentence objective for the meeting in order to plan and benchmark it.
- Input. Provide an opportunity for all members to give input. Send a draft agenda 10 days before the meeting to all who will be attending to make sure all of the important topics are covered.
- Format. The meeting should begin with a call to order, officer reports, old business, new business and adjournment. Priority agendas place items in order of importance, which items are for information only and which items should be discussed.
- Time. Keep the meeting running on time. Realistic time goals should be established and printed on each part of the agenda. Allow for some social interaction for team-building.
- Follow. It is very important to follow the stated agenda during a meeting. I suggest front-loading the meeting agenda with the most important discussion points early in the agenda to allow ample time for discussion.
If the meeting agenda involves administration, staff and volunteers, make sure every constituency is heard and has a place on the agenda. I have seen too many agendas and meetings in the nonprofit world where administration or specific leaders dominate the discussion to the point that volunteers are not heard. Especially where volunteer committees are concerned, make committee leaders accountable for their own areas of expertise by having them report program outcomes.
Find constant agendas and stick with what works for you.
Each one of us likes meetings that do not get bogged down with details. Stick to the agenda topics and balance involvement by all concerned. Where possible, have volunteer leaders present in place of staff. The staff roles should be to help fill in the blanks and provide additional information or clarification if requested. If it is a board meeting, let the board chair lead the meeting. There always should be a place on the agenda for the staff leader to speak.
I also suggest, if time allows, having an organizational speaker talk about various program successes that constantly justify the organizational existence.
In summary, do not dread meetings. Make meetings come alive with well-thought-out meeting agendas. Once you find the right format, stick with it. As long as you are involved with a nonprofit, you will have to attend meetings that have agendas. Learn from your experiences and strive to improve future meetings you attend. Remember that quality meetings depend on quality agendas.
Duke has extensive experience as a nonprofit practitioner, author, lecturer and consultant. He has been a contributing author to NonProfit PRO for the last 11 years. He has been a long-standing member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals where he was previously named the AFP Indiana Chapter Fundraising Executive of the Year and has held the CFRE designation for many years.
He received his doctorate degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis in education administration, master's degree from Marshall University with an emphasis in public administration and a bachelor's degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis in marketing/management. He has also completed post graduate work at the University of Louisville.
He is currently executive director of development for The Salvation Army Indiana Division in Indianapolis, IN plus Adjunct Professor for Olivet Nazarene University. Contact Duke at firstname.lastname@example.org or 317-224-1029.