The “life” of a non-profit board exists in its official meetings. Because the time that a board has to experience this “life” is very limited (perhaps 30 to 40 hours annually), board leaders have to plan meetings that enable the board to derive the most value from these scheduled interactions. Ineffective meetings, i.e., those that hinder a board’s ability to advance the agency’s mission by making good decisions, generate board dysfunction and affect the health of the agency. So investing wisdom in developing quality meetings and board experiences pays immense dividends.
Key principles used by experienced, non-profit board leaders to ensure that board meetings are productive would include the following:
- Understand the essential relationship between effective board meetings and achieving the key outcomes necessary to advance the mission. When board leaders and the CEO fail to perceive the inter-relationship between well-planned board interactions and the ability of the agency to fulfill its vision, then insufficient attention will be given to nurturing the “life” of the board. The result inevitably will be poor planning, mediocre leadership and risky decisions. Everyone will have dissatisfaction at the result.
- Board leaders serve the board and its members. This can only happen if board leaders understand the role and responsibility of the board, have a clear perception of the work that the board has to accomplish annually, and know how to pace the work of the board to fulfill its responsibilities effectively and efficiently. So develop an annual agenda of the board’s work and ensure that time-sensitive decisions are scheduled appropriately, that the board has the information in hand to make such decisions, and that unanticipated issues can be handled by the board without upsetting its rhythm. The board needs to empower board leadership to guide them intentionally in this way, i.e., develop a position description for the board chair.
- Effective board leaders understand the culture of their board and know how to guide the board’s “life-in-meetings” to take full advantage of this culture to enable good discussions and timely decisions. Where this culture demonstrates some weaknesses, board leaders will find ways to educate, challenge, and change board culture for the better. Two important tools that assist this leadership would be: a board code of conduct and an annual assessment of the board’s work. These two policy tools enable board leaders to structure high-energy engagement with issues and to be a catalyst for board development and change based upon the board’s own insights.
- Board leaders have to plan the interactions between the CEO and the board effectively. The reports produced by the CEO are significant tools by which the board discerns how past actions are moving the agency to achieve defined, key results. However, time spent in the board meeting reviewing the past should be limited. Similarly, the board has to have its finger on the present pulse of the organization and here again the CEO’s reports offer critical information regarding the board’s “worry-points.” The board agenda will probably have to give some time to resolving current issues, but these should be managed through recommendations provided by standing committees or short-term task forces. The bulk of the board’s time and energy in each meeting should be devoted to the future. Wise board leaders keep asking themselves which of the agenda items will advance the mission and making sure these items get the best and most time in the board meeting. Using tools such as consent agendas, discussion briefs, decision proposals, etc., help boards to make the best use of their time. It is also helpful to ensure that CEO reports are circulated in writing at least a week before the meeting so board members can read and digest the information. Such reports should not be read at meetings. A consent agenda gives space for board members to ask questions and identify issues that need future board attention.
- Lastly, wise board leaders foster the “life” of a non-profit board by ensuring that all decisions are recorded accurately in minutes that the board carefully reviews. Once approved these minutes need to be signed by the board chair to indicate their official nature. All board members must have access to all board minutes. This record becomes the official “voice” of the board, defining its decisions and preventing board members or staff acting arbitrarily based upon “memory.”
If you are a non-profit board leader in a church or other Christian agency, take the time and make the investment to plan the “life” of the board well. It is the only way to enable your board to operate effectively and to use well the spiritual intelligence God has provided through each board person for the benefit of the agency.