Board members always appreciate an efficiently run meeting. Here are some suggestions for effectively running a not-for-profit board meeting (or any other meeting for that matter):
- Make sure you know the board notification requirements. Bylaws often require a notification period prior to a valid board meeting. The purpose is to make sure board members are not “frozen out” of participation because of short notice. Each board member has the privilege of being heard at a meeting. This can’t be taken away from them except at risk of having an invalid board meeting.
- Determine if phone participation is allowed. Many organizations still frown on this method of holding a board meeting. Nevertheless, if you are going to allow a teleconference, send out a notice to all the directors (not just those who ask for a conference call) with the phone number well ahead of time. Follow that up with another email notice the day of the meeting. Directors often are busy people and won’t have time to find the original conference call details. Many people receive a blizzard of email on a daily basis. Sending the conference call details again on the day of the meeting usually puts the notification on top of their email listing
- Circulate an agenda and board materials in advance of the meeting. Realistically, this is not always possible. However, as much of the material should be circulated in advance as possible. This will often facilitate active discussion at the meeting, and will keep the meeting time down. Prepared directors will help the chair move the meeting along. Try and send the board materials in logical groups. Do not send information piecemeal because multiple emails have a high propensity for being lost or ignored. It goes without saying the chairperson and the executive director of the organization should review the materials before they are sent out. This will ensure they are familiar with the content and contain no errors.
- Know the quorum requirements and make sure a quorum of members will attend. It is frustrating to drive to a meeting only to find there are not enough members present to have a meeting. In the hallowed halls of Congress it is the responsibility of the “whips” to make sure members will attend. In a board setting, it is the responsibility of the chairperson to make sure a quorum will be present at the board meeting, or to cancel the meeting as appropriate. Do a headcount the day before the meeting to make sure there are enough directors coming.
- Strive for unanimity in any votes taken. A simple majority rules for most board votes but you don’t want to have a 5-4 voting result on a major organizational issue. At the end of the day, you want all the board members to buy into an action. You want the entire board “rowing in one direction” in support of management. A divided board will not accomplish this. In such situations, a delay of the vote for more discussion may be warranted. Members in the minority should be allowed to express their opinions and reasons for voting against the proposal. At the end of the day, the majority may not be able to persuade the minority. When the minutes for the meeting are published, the position of the minority should be described.. Publish the minutes of the meeting as soon as possible after the meeting while details of the meeting are still vivid in the members memory. This will help ensure a careful record of the meeting and its actions are recorded. The minority will acknowledge the fair treatment they have received at the hands of the chairperson and will always appreciate it. Simple courtesy goes a long way.
- Avoid marathon board meetings. Sometimes it is not possible to cover all of the material in one meeting. No one wants to come from work and attend a three-hour meeting. Prioritize the topics discussed. Use committees as much as possible. It is always possible to schedule another board meeting. Unanimous consents are another vehicle you can use to reduce board time.
- Finally, it is always appropriate for the chairperson to thank everyone for their participation. Not-for-profit board members are usually not compensated for their effort. A thank you and recognition for their time is always welcome.