Effective Board Meetings for Good Governance

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The best board meetings leave us focused and energized: the goal of the meeting is clear; our team is motivated; and the process is smooth, and there are well-defined outcomes. Not-so-great meetings, on the other hand, drain energy, and lower morale because of the perceived waste of time.

We've pulled together 10 tips and resources to help you set the stage for meetings that are strategic, outcome-oriented, and productive for all. Here are our favorite meeting hacks followed by a curated list of tips for more effective board meetings (although many of these ideas apply equally to other types of meetings):

  1. Rotate which committee/board members or particpants lead each section of the meeting. Listening to a new person can help reengage board members, and being responsible for sharing information or facilitating discussion builds leadership skills.
  2. Co-create the rules of engagement for the meetings, such as sharing meeting norms and expectations. Example: what's the expectations for the use of cell phones during meetings?  
  3. Send out the agenda beforehand, so everyone knows what to expect and can prepare as necessary: basic but important! Should the board meeting agenda include an "executive session"? Some support adding a placeholder for an executive session to each board meeting agenda, just so it's there as needed and not a "red flag" that there is a problem the board wishes to address behind the staff's back. Others only include it when it's clear that the board will need to meet without staff present.
  4. Give each agenda item a set time frame. Sticking to the timeframes on the agenda consistently shows committee members/meeting participants that they, and their time, are valued.
  5. Noncontroversial items can be voted on as part of a consent agenda to save time during the meeting for deeper discussion on more strategic issues.
  6. Collect RSVPs in advance to ensure enough people planning to attend to make the meeting worthwhile.
  7. Note off-agenda topics and agree to set them aside for discussion at a later date to make sure the primary agenda is addressed first and to get participants in the habit of focusing and being aware of tangents.
  8. Use periodic self-assessment or post-meeting surveys, or other ways to ensure there is a regular feedback loop so those attending meetings can share their views of how meetings are working for them. Use the feedback to improve meetings and help the board be most effective.
  9. Document decisions! Board meeting minutes are legal documents; committee meeting minutes are also important, both to document institutional memory, and also to document whether a committee's actions created a commitment by the organization. Guidance on keeping corporate minutes  (Probono Partnership).
  10. If your meeting will be virtual - everyone should test out the technology in advance of the meeting!

Tips and Tools for effective meetings

Four researched-based tips to maximize your meetings (Happy Brain Science)

Runing effective virtual meetings (Beth Kanter)

12 handy tips for running remote meetings (Hubspot )

4 web-based meeting schedulers reviewed (Mashable Tech)

Are you getting the most out of meetings? (National Council of Nonprofits)

How to design and agenda for an effective meeting (Harvard Business Review)

How to run and participate in a successful virtual meeting (Spinweb)

Does your nonprofit suffer from a culture of sitting? How to change it (Beth's Blog)

Working group meeting warm-ups and toolkit (Collective Impact Forum)

Ice breakers for small groups (and parlor games) (Grahame Knox)

7 habits for highly effective meetings (Project Management Hacks)

Running effective meetings (Mindtools)

Seven steps to running the most effective meeting possible (Forbes)

How to design an agenda for an effective meeting (Harvard Business Review)

The worst way to end a meeting (Fast Company)

Liberating structures

What makes a great meeting? (National Council of Nonprofits)

Resources for Board Chairs & Effective Meetings

Smooth sailing into your next board meeting (National Council of Nonprofits)

Meetings that Hum (Cause Effective)

Virtual Meeting Attendance: Not Present, But Still Here (BoardSource)

Board meeting preparation: 10 tips for chief executives and board chairs (BoardSource)

What Makes a Board Meeting a Home Run (Joan Garry Nonprofit Consulting)

12 ways to liven up your board meetings and your board (Gail Perry)

Meeting and Exceeding Expectations: A Guide to Successful Board Meetings (BoardSource)

7 Secrets for successful board meetings (Wild Apricot)

Ten Quick Ways to Invigorate Board Meetings (Blue Avocado)

Board Meeting FAQs (BoardSource)

Parliamentary Law and Practice for Nonprofit Organizations (Rosenthal)

Roberta's Rules of Order (Cochran)

A consumers's guide to board portals (Idealware)

Comparing Board Portal Features (Idealware)

Video: Tips for effective board meetings (CoreStrategies4Nonprofits)

Board Meeting Minutes - Part I and Part II (Nonprofit Law Blog)

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