We’ve all been there: a meeting that should have only lasted an hour inched toward the 90-minute mark and then dragged past two hours. Even worse, you didn’t accomplish your objectives, and people left without making key decisions or setting actionable next steps. But luckily, it doesn’t have to be that way when you create effective board meeting agendas!
For organizations with limited resources, effective board meetings are crucial. And at the foundation of every good meeting is a solid meeting agenda. It sets the tone for your meeting and determines how engaged (or disengaged) your board members will be. With some simple planning, your nonprofit board can drastically improve the effectiveness of its meetings. However, it takes more than just creating a simple governance checklist and calling it a day.
That’s why we’ve put together our top suggestions and created some free templates to help you get started. In this guide, we’ll cover the following key topics:
At Boardable, our goal is to simplify board management and amplify an organization’s impact in their community. By equipping their boards with the management tools and resources they need to succeed, nonprofits can easily accomplish this.
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Chances are, you’ve seen many examples of poor preparation and badly chosen topics — directly resulting in disinterested board members. This only wastes the time of your organization’s most valuable people, and you’ll want to avoid this at all costs. The only surefire way to avoid this mishap is by creating a dynamic board meeting agenda. But how?
Luckily, there are a few steps you can take to create powerful agendas that set your meetings up to be productive, collaborative, and engaging — regardless of if they’re virtual or in-person. Whether your meetings are 30 minutes or several hours, there’s no excuse for a poorly-designed schedule with insufficient talking points.
Let’s jump into some best practices for building effective board meeting agendas that promote organization and effective communication, no matter how small or large your group may be.
A board meeting agenda serves as the roadmap for the chair and acts as the driving force of your meetings. It helps you move between meeting subjects and addresses all business items, while not dwelling too long on specific issues that are better addressed in committee meetings.
So that each topic is sufficiently covered, you’ll need to implement clear organization in your board meeting agendas. Here are some tips for doing just that:
Freshen up your approach. Your board meeting agendas don’t always have to look the same. Invigorate your board by turning your agenda upside down and addressing the most important (and potentially game-changing) information first. After all, it’s much easier to generate new ideas when board members’ minds are fresh.
Note if a topic is meant to inform, seek information, or arrive at a decision. Knowing the end goal of each given board meeting agenda item makes it much easier to achieve it. Otherwise, you may reach your objective without realizing it and then waste time looking for another solution you don’t need.
Allot a set amount of time for each agenda item. If you don’t reach the desired conclusion, keep it on the board meeting agenda for next time, and focus on solving the problems that you can right now. If everyone knows it’s time to move on, wrapping up the discussion is much easier.
Don’t let your meetings be a jumbled mess. A clearly organized board meeting agenda will help you avoid side conversations and get down to business. Otherwise, everyone will be mentally clocked out before you know it.
From reviewing reports to completing next steps, there’s a lot of information that board members need to function efficiently. But the last thing you want to do is drown your board members in unnecessary tasks.
Here are some simple yet actionable tips that will help you avoid information overload with your board meeting agendas:
Limit packet length. A good rule of thumb is to limit your board packet to 10 pages for an average board meeting and 20 for a special one. Rely on committees to digest the details and provide a high-level overview for the rest of the board. Otherwise, an overloaded board meeting agenda will cloud their minds and distract them from more important details.
Minimize the time spent on routine items. Spend about 25 percent of the meeting on reporting and the “have to’s” (i.e. approving the agenda and prior meeting minutes, financial review, etc.). This leaves the majority of the meeting to discuss strategic direction and other critical issues. A consent agenda helps here since it consolidates routine items.
Don’t stack up reports on your meeting agenda. The more you drown members in details, the more likely it is that they’ll check out. If your agenda has the word “report” on it more than two or three times, you have too many. Board members do not want to spend an hour (or more) listening to staff or fellow members talk at them rather than with them.
If you show that you value your board members’ time, the energy in the room will naturally be much higher!
Formatting means nothing without actionable agenda items. In other words, how the agenda looks matters much less than what you plan to cover. Plan the meeting well first, and worry about the best way to communicate that plan later.
Start by choosing board meeting agenda topics that affect multiple members. Topics that are relevant to everyone at the table will naturally be much more invigorating and meaningful. If you can’t find any topics that affect at least half of the group, you might have a deeper problem on your hands.
Two minds (or several in this case) are greater than one. Gathering input is great for sparking enthusiasm and ensuring that you don’t miss any important discussion topics.
Start by going around the table at the start of each meeting and asking each member if he or she has anything to discuss. The same goes for each discussion topic. At the start and finish of each agenda item, ask members if they have anything to add.
Sometimes, members might say that they do not have anything to add, which can be quite a meaningful message in itself. It indicates to the group that the person feels that the subject has been sufficiently covered and signals a readiness to move on. However, tread lightly here, because if this happens too often, it might be a sign that your board meeting agenda is too long.
Once you’ve created a board meeting agenda with actionable discussion points and key decision-making items, you’ll want to share it with your board members.
Sharing it in advance gives members the opportunity to fully prepare and actively contribute—especially if they’re assigned to cover one of the items. With sufficient review time, your board meeting agenda will give board members some level of detail about discussion items and inspire provocative questions to bring up to initiate effective collaboration.
When documents and reports are attached to the board meeting agenda, members can review them at their leisure and use meeting time for discussion. Or, better yet, they can focus on the strategic issues facing your nonprofit. After all, your board meetings should focus on the future of the organization.
By sending your board meeting agendas out in advance, members can relax knowing the meeting is under control and that all pressing issues are accounted for. In other words, they’ll be less likely to slow the meeting with interruptions if they know their issue will be covered later on.
Each officer on a nonprofit board plays an important role. The board chair is the head of the board, the treasurer records the finances, and the secretary is tasked with taking accurate meeting minutes, which are crucial for the board. Meeting minutes are crucial for the board.
When recorded effectively, board minutes memorialize the board’s actions and clearly describe the rationale behind them. Ideally, they help a board track progress toward goals, detail future plans, and serve as a reference point.
They’re used to inform people who didn’t attend about what happened as well as provide guidance for future decision making. Not only this, but they’re an official and legal record of the board meeting.
With all the responsibility that accurate minute keeping entails, this is the job of a consummate multitasker. It involves multiple elements, including:
Effective minutes may start with a great board meeting agenda, but they’re not simply a fleshed-out outline. Minutes preserve the order of the board’s discussion, even if it reorders the agenda items. Stay on track during your meetings with these key best practices.
Know which guests are planning on attending. For in-person meetings, name all expected participants and visitors on a sign-in sheet that’s titled “WELCOME. PLEASE SIGN IN.” Then, place it near the door with a pen attached.
Before calling the meeting to order, the chair should encourage everyone to sign the sheet. Better yet, automate the process with digital nonprofit software.
In short, the minutes should be precise and coherent enough for a future reader to grasp what occurred without confusion. As you write, ask yourself what a reader will want to know down the line.
Specifically, be sure to record motions verbatim. Here’s an idea of the crucial information you’ll want to record:
As for any additional collaboration, conversations should not be recorded verbatim. Record them objectively and resist including inflammatory commentary or personal remarks. Stick to the facts! A good way to do this is to avoid adjectives and adverbs whenever possible. Double-check your language to make sure that it’s clear and unambiguous.
No matter the conversation, quicken the minute-making process with the Boardable Minutes Maker. It allows you to record ideas, tasks, and votes easily and efficiently, so you won’t miss a single moment of action.
On a similar note, you’ll want to include any pertinent information that arises during a board meeting. Remember, boards have legal liability, and minutes serve as an official and legal record. In a legal arena, meeting minutes are presumed to be correct, so keep language clear and simple to avoid any complications. Use these details as a strong starting point:
While this is by no means a comprehensive list, it should serve as a strong foundation as you start to develop your meeting minutes. Be sure to take note of any critical information, and you’ll be off to a great start. For each board meeting agenda item, write a short statement of each action taken, along with the rationale behind key decisions. While you don’t want to record every second of the meeting, avoid including too little information and leaving room for confusion.
Once your meeting minutes are complete, you need to have some actionable next steps set in place to quickly finalize them and distribute them to board members in a timely fashion. Your best bet is to have a checklist that keeps you on track.
From here, you should always follow your organization’s by-laws and protocols for storing your board meeting agenda minutes. Just in case, create back-up copies — either in print or digitally (or both!). Best case scenario, use a board portal where you can back the document up on Google Drive, Dropbox, or OneDrive.
Improve your digital strategy by using technology to your advantage and taking minutes on a laptop. This way, it’s much quicker to jot down important information and reorder it as you go when discussion varies from the agenda. Not only is this much more efficient, but when working from home, there’s an increased need for a more technological approach.
Be sure to efficiently type keywords, brief sentences, and notations directly onto the agenda. Then, outline any series of suggestions and comments in a bullet-point style for quick reference.
A digital solution like Boardable’s Minutes Maker simplifies the process further. You can effectively take, store, and distribute minutes for future reference so that everyone is up-to-date on the latest information — even if they were unable to attend. Stay tuned to explore the solution in-depth later on.
If you’re new to creating board meeting agendas, you may be unsure of where to start — no matter how much you read up on the best practices. Developing and using a specified format can go a long way in creating one that sparks collaboration and engagement. For a solid starting point, click on the following graphics to check out editable board meeting agenda templates you can use:
Each of the above board meeting agenda templates has a unique layout with elements you can edit to fit your next board meeting. Here’s what you can expect to find within each:
Creating dynamic board meeting agendas doesn’t have to be difficult. Instead of leaving it up to chance, try out one of the above board meeting agenda templates and see how they work for your organization. Adapt them to suit your needs, and you’ll be surprised at what your team can come up with!
As you’ve learned, preparing for a board meeting includes innumerable tasks that can be very time-consuming. This long list of to-do items includes (but is certainly not limited to) finding a date that works, communicating all pertinent details, securely sharing documents, and creating a dynamic board meeting agenda well in advance. The good news is that the Boardable Meetings Center now allows you to efficiently accomplish all of those tasks in one convenient place!
With Boardable’s nonprofit board software, you can centralize board information and communications, making everything (and everyone) only a couple of clicks away. Backed by these comprehensive board management tools, you’ll be able to create dynamic agendas quickly and effectively with the Agenda Builder Feature. Here’s a brief overview of what you can expect from our powerful tools:
In no time, you can automate meeting scheduling, build dynamic meeting agendas (the built-in board meeting agenda templates make it easier), and keep track of meeting attendance and correspondence.
Here’s a brief walkthrough of the Boardable Agenda Builder. In this short 3-minute video, you’ll see the tool’s comprehensive functionality and be able to gauge how well it will work for creating and sharing your own board meeting agendas:
After you create a meeting within the Meetings Center, you can easily build out an agenda by adding items (as pictured below). Alternatively, you have the option to select one of three default board meeting agenda templates within the tool or you can use a saved template from a previous meeting.
As you add items to your board meeting agenda, you can easily assign them to a specific board member, designate a time duration, add an insightful description, and attach relative documents. Take a look for yourself:
Especially when your board is in the middle of thought-provoking discussions, members will want to take notes. Boardable makes this quick and easy with note-taking functionality!
During the meeting, each attendee has the option to take personal notes directly on the board meeting agenda. That way, they are fully engaged and know exactly what they need to do before the next meeting. Take a look at the attendees’ view:
As you know, effective minutes protect your board from liability and inefficiency. Using the Minutes Maker, you can use the agenda you already built to not miss a single detail.
Simply pull up your board meeting agenda and add your minutes directly to each agenda item. See how easy it is to enter notes, assign tasks, and record votes.
From here, you can efficiently publish your minutes and instantly distribute them to all attendees. With just a few clicks, you can connect a past meeting’s minutes, agenda, and tasks with the materials for the next meeting, making preparation a breeze. Recording meeting minutes has never been simpler!
With Boardable’s board software, you can centralize all communication into one convenient location and create powerful agendas that incite collaboration.
Agenda setting plays a major role in establishing an invigorated spirit among board members. By intentionally incorporating best practices, creating dynamic board meeting agendas can quickly become a natural habit.
Remember to give your board meetings new life by valuing everyone’s time with an agenda that makes people want to come to the meeting. After all, you should have board members, not bored members!
If you’re not sure where to start, feel free to build out your next agenda with one of our board meeting agenda templates. Our board software and intuitive Agenda Builder will streamline the process further and empower your board to be the best it possibly can. In no time, you’ll be well on your way to more productive and collaborative board meetings.
If you’d like to continue your research, explore these additional resources so you can maximize your nonprofit management expertise:
7 Tips for a Successful Virtual Board Meeting. Whatever the circumstances may be, you need to be prepared to host virtual board meetings. Learn the ins-and-outs with our complete guide.
Best Membership and Association Management Software. Embark on your journey to find the best nonprofit management software with this list of top-rated providers from Double the Donation.
80+ Unique (And Easy!) Fundraising Ideas. Is your board in need of some exciting ways to improve your financial resources? Bring these ideas to the table and spark some inspiration for your next campaign.
Learn all about how to get rid of the traditional paper board book in this free ebook download. Share the PDF with your team and never create another cumbersome board book again!