By Kellie Wardman

    Does your non-profit have Save-As-Itis?

    Meaning, do you tend to open your previous board meeting’s agenda and click File > Save As to create the next one, plugging in the new date and modifying a few things here and there?

    If that’s the case, you may not be leveraging the true brain power and contributions of board members.

    A plug-and-play agenda works if meetings consist mostly of CEO, staff, or committee reporting. But unfortunately, reporting is boring. Your volunteers may say they want you to bring them up to speed, but reporting is not a good strategy to build engagement. It can lead to more multitasking on Zoom calls or reading email on their phones during your meetings.

    “But if we don’t do that reporting, how will people know what’s going on? Our board members don’t read information we send them ahead of time.”

    Not reading materials in advance is simply a learned behavior. Board members do that only because that’s how we’ve trained them. Based on history, they know if an organization will report out on everything and tell them what they need to know. So why would they read anything ahead of time?

    What Is In Your Board’s View?

    Reporting also means you are focusing on what has already happened, not what is ahead. If you want to change your board’s practices, you probably need to have a frank discussion about spending time together differently and create new agreements around reading materials in advance. Using a consent agenda also frees up time to tackle other topics.

    But that issue aside, what topics typically are on your board meeting agenda? Does your board spend most of the meeting looking at what has happened in the last 30 or 60 days, rather than looking at what is coming in the next 30 or 60? Board meetings should be spent looking through your organization’s windshield into what’s ahead, not into the rearview mirror.

    It’s the board's job to be holding the strategic vision for the organization—and if they are kept too busy focusing on the past, they won’t have their eyes on what is coming.

    So how do we keep a board focused on the future? Here are some ideas:

    • Engage in meaningful dialogue in small groups. This means identifying 20-minute segments for small group discussions (even via Zoom). By using breakout rooms or small group discussions, you can have 3-4 times the conversation and 3-4 times the engagement than you have with one person speaking at a time in a group of 15 or 20.
    • Institute microlearnings in each meeting. Take 10 minutes of every meeting and build in board education around roles and responsibilities, your 990, bylaws, legal duties, what support you could use on social media, and/or what it means to be an ambassador of the organization. These micro learnings will provide your board members with important information—but also break up the meeting time into interesting segments.
    • Identify strategic or generative issues that could be on the table. What significant, exploratory questions might your board discuss and get engaged in? Some examples: Where are we with our strategic plan? What questions are coming up in our community that we need to be thinking about? What are the long-term impacts of COVID we should be discussing? What role might we play in equity work or combating systemic racism?

    To fully engage board members in meaningful ways, we must ask questions we as leaders don’t always know the answer to. The most compelling questions are ones that even board members don’t even know the answer to. These are the critical questions that we will explore together. And that is what makes for juicy and not-to-miss board meetings.

    Image by Sarah Blocksidge from Pixabay

    Posted by Kellie Wardman
    Kellie Wardman

    Written by Kellie Wardman

    Kellie Wardman, CPCC, ACC, has worked in the non-profit sector for 20 years, serving as a consultant and executive coach for a wide range of innovative and impactful leaders and organizations. She has provided clients with comprehensive support in a wide range of disciplines, including strategic planning, board development and governance, facilitating partnerships and collaborations, capital development, and CEO searches and onboarding processes.

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