Ask Alyson: Effective Nonprofit Board Meetings

Posted on July 3, 2009 by  
Filed under Board Governance · Tagged: , ,

Dear Alyson

We have a particular question about our board; currently our board votes on everything including everything our committees decide to do and everything we will spend $$ on, however, this seems to extend our board meetings into eternity.  I wonder should we just let the committees make the decisions and report to the board what the plans are and be done with it….?  Then I worry that the board members will not feel as useful if they don’t vote on every decision…?  How to decide what the committees decide on and what the board votes on?  Can you recommend a solution?

Sheila Browning (alias, of course)
Executive Director

Dear Sheila –

Thanks for asking.  Your question is a very common one.

You are right – your board should let the committees decide most issues (especially those related to their subject matter).  The beauty of committees is just that – they take the work away from the entire board.  If you let the entire board re-discuss each of these issues, then you run the risk of micro-managing and wasting time.

The board approves issues related to these four areas:

1. finances – voting to accept budgets, accepting financial reports during the year, and fiancial projects over multiple years if you have them.

2. strategy – Do you have any sort of strategic plan or 2-3 year view of the future? This requires board approval.

3. policies – HR policies, operating policies, financial or investment policies, fundraising policies/standards.

4. Board members, board officers, approvals and new Executive Directors being hired and terminated.

Here are some ideas you and your board can try:

1. When you develop the next board meeting agenda, start by determining what DECISIONS need to be made by the board. Look to the list, above, to see what really needs to be decided by the board and focus your meeting on those items.

2. Decide what committee or staff will present the recommendations that is being made for the entire board to discuss and decide.

3. Think about what other information/updates should be shared with the entire board.  (Only allow 5-6 minutes for updates on your agenda.)

4. Be sure that the agenda, committee and staff recommendations, and any updates that the board will see at the meeting are sent out a week in advance.

EXPECT YOUR BOARD TO READ EVERYTHING THEY ARE SENT PRIOR TO THE MEETING.

I hope this helps you, Sheila.  Please do let me know how things are going once you’ve tried some of these ideas.

Feel free to forward this message along to your board if you think it will help.

Alyson