Last week a prestigious university hosted a webinar on effective nonprofit governance. I listened eagerly to learn new insights. The professor presenting opened by stating that “weak nonprofit board governance is common” and most board meetings consist of committee chairs reading reports followed by executive directors reading reports. Targeting boards this way misses the mark.

I don’t find anything constructive in bemoaning how dysfunctional “most” nonprofit boards are! First, I am not sure there is any current evidence to back up this assertion and second, we know (from research by the way) that focusing on what works is the best way to promote change. What the professor described is not “common” in my experience. Nonprofit boards are challenged to improve effectiveness—aren’t we all?  But, to help board members unleash their full potential for positive impact, let’s emphasize what works to do that. To that end, here are ten meeting management tips for board chairs and executive directors for more effective and engaging board meetings—meetings that aren’t a litany of reports if that has been your experience!

  1. Board chairs and executive directors: partner to create agenda that focuses on strategic issues.
  2. Use a consent agenda – read in advance what does not require discussion and vote on all of it in one motion.
  3. Put the most important items right after the consent agenda.
  4. Know the action you expect for every item and note that on the agenda.
  5. Decide when you will invite “mission moments” (sharing of mission-impact stories)—an effective tool for board member engagement.
  6. Use a “bin” sheet to note ideas/questions not relevant for the agenda but that you want to capture for another time.
  7. During the meeting pause to check in with introverts (people who are quiet/thinking) to make sure their voices are heard.
  8. For controversial or very important decisions, create decision rules prior to discussion (e.g., decide to use a super-majority instead of a simple majority).
  9. Use straw votes to check in during long discussions so they don’t go on longer than needed.
  10. Clarify your meeting management rules. Will you use Robert’s Rules of Order completely or in some form? Will you use Roberta’s Rules of Order? (Go here: Or?

Share here your experience with board meetings and views about boards. I welcome different perspectives!  But I tire of board bashing I find to be over-generalized and disrespectful. Rather, let’s say “Thank-you!” and help the thousands of well-meaning board volunteers get what they need to go to the next level.