How Not to Run a Board Meeting

March 15, 2012

Filed under: Board Development — Tags: , — jonathanpoisner @ 10:48 am

I recently observed two of my pet peeves about board meetings in the same meeting.

1. Orally report on past activities, when there was plenty of time to put the report in writing.

2. Framing broad general subjects, rather than specific decisions.

What’s wrong with both.

Let’s start with orally reporting what you could put in writing ahead of time.  This is just a poor use of time.  Your board’s time is one of your most precious resources.  And your board’s time in the same place is even more precious.

The vast majority of people can absorb information quicker reading.  Listening to one person share orally not only wastes time of those who could absorb the information quicker by reading, but it squanders the time your board has to do its most important job: govern.  Governing takes conversation.

What about selecting topics, instead of questions, for board deliberation?  This is perhaps an even bigger time sink.  Adding topics to a board meeting just because it’s always on the agenda is not a reason to schedule an item for the agenda.  And even if it is, you need to give your board some decision or options around which to frame the conversation, or it will be meander.

The conversation I recently witnessed went off in five different directions not just because the board chair didn’t intervene to keep it on a single topic, but because the board chair had no guidance for how to do so since the agenda item was set up as a topic, instead of a decision.

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How often should your board meet?

August 4, 2011

Filed under: Board Development — Tags: — jonathanpoisner @ 4:24 pm

I’ve had this question come up in conversation a few times in the last month.

There is, of course, no pat answer.

Here are some factors that would lead me to meet quite frequently (eg. monthly):

  • If the board has real fears about fiscal health and needs to either take charge of it or hold an Executive Director accountable.
  • If the organization lacks staff and the board is therefore responsible for fundraising and program
  • If the organizational lay of the land is in a very rapid state of change

Here are some factors that would lead me to meet either 4 or 6 times per year instead:

  • If there are functioning committees and you want to give committees more time between meetings to do their work.
  • If monthly meetings take up so much time that the board doesn’t feel it has time to meet its fundraising obligations.
  • If less frequent (but longer) board meetings will allow the Executive Director to spend less time doing basic board meeting prep that comes at the expense of fundraising/program.

Of course, if you go to longer board meetings, it does place a higher burden on the Executive Director to come up with other means between board meetings to maintain communications with the board.  I’ve written about the subject of ED-Board communications previously.

In my experience, as organizations mature they should move from more frequent shorter meetings to less frequent longer meetings.   For most organizations, somewhere between 10-16 hours of meetings per year should be sufficient, if there are functioning committees capable of doing the work between meetings.  This is on top of any board retreat that’s about long-range planning, which is worthy of its own blog post.

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