One technique that can be used to make board meetings more efficient, especially for boards with a lot of routine matters, is a consent agenda. A consent agenda is a way to corral all the straightforward board approvals into one item that can be voted on quickly: minutes, financial reports, approval of bank signatories when officers change, approval of policies that have been thoroughly discussed before but needed a clean draft, committee or staff reports, routine correspondence. (It is not a way to slip things past other board members.) A successful consent agenda requires that information on the items be sent to all board members a week or so in advance so that they have time to review the material, so if your board isn’t there yet, start with reliably getting minutes and financial reports out before the board meeting.
Once that habit is in place, the board drafts a policy regarding a consent agenda. A short version looks like this:
A consent agenda may be presented by the president at the beginning of a meeting. Items may be removed from the consent agenda on the request of any one member. Items not removed may be adopted by general consent without debate. Removed items may be taken up either immediately after the consent agenda or placed later on the agenda at the discretion of the president.
A more formal policy
will include the steps for using a consent agenda and examples of what belongs on it.
After the board has approved the use of consent agendas, the president will develop one for each meeting. The consent agenda and ALL the documentation related to it is sent to board members at least a week in advance. This gives members a chance to review the material, ask questions about the items, and come to the meeting prepared to vote intelligently on the consent agenda – or to remove an item from it. The full list of items on the consent agenda are listed on the meeting agenda.
Any board member may request that an item be taken off a consent agenda for discussion, without penalty. In this case, the item goes onto the full agenda under the appropriate heading (usually Old Business). The president should start the consent agenda process
by asking if anyone wants to remove an item for discussion, and ask the question until there are no more removals. At that point, the board can either approve it by asking for objections (there shouldn’t be any left) and approving in their absence, or by taking a formal vote, depending on their policy; the best procedure will depend on the board and its governing documents
The process may feel a little awkward at the beginning, but once the policy is in place and the procedure is familiar, it can reduce half a dozen agenda items to one quick vote, leaving time for more substantive discussions about programs, strategic planning, or goals.