Being on a board for a nonprofit can be satisfying and interesting – but drawn-out board meetings that slog through a vague agenda and spend more time on housekeeping details than on ways to improve the organization take the fun out of it. Luckily, there are couple of simple things that can make board meetings more efficient and effective.
The first step is for the president to take control of the agenda. First, have a standard format that you follow – it makes life simpler. It should include conflict of interest checks; approving minutes from the last meeting; reports from the treasurer, committees, and ED; and anything else that your board needs to do regularly such as public comment or approving checks. This gives your board a predictable framework for meetings, which helps things move more smoothly.
To create the agenda, get input from the Executive Director, if you have one. Bring items forward for Old Business and add anything that has come up lately to New Business. If appropriate, ask the other board members if they have any suggestions; this can also be done at the end of the previous meeting.
The treasurer should have the financial reports ready a week before the board meeting, and send them to the president. Similarly, the secretary should have the previous minutes to the president at least a week before the meeting; it is easiest to do them promptly and send them on right away so the president can worry about losing them instead.
Then the president can email the minutes, the financial reports, and the previous minutes to board members a week before the meeting, in one email; any committee reports, information requested from the ED, and background for new topics should be included in the email. This way everyone can see what is coming up and be prepared for the meeting. It does require board members to read the documents before the meeting, and that may take some peer pressure or arm-twisting to make happen.
It seems easier to ignore a meeting until it is time to meet, but the pay-off for a little preparation time is a meeting that goes smoothly: Everyone has read the minutes and knows immediately whether or not corrections are needed, instead of spending 15 minutes while they read the minutes and decide if they are right. They have had time to think through the financials and prepare questions. The routine items can be disposed of effectively and efficiently, leaving more time for the important discussions that will help the organization grow and serve its mission.