So much work, effort, and time goes into selecting the right board members. Nonprofits spend months and years cultivating just the right mix of people in leadership. Finally, we have all the right skills and backgrounds in one place.
However, one crucial step remains: If we want to make the most of the time spent together, it is vital that we master meeting preparation. This article will cover all the steps and tools needed to prepare your team for effective and engaging meetings.
When you hear the words “meeting preparation” you probably think of the basics. Of course, we need a time and place for the meeting. Hopefully, there is a clear reason for the meeting in the first place. But effective board meeting preparation goes much further than where, when, and why.
Good board meeting preparation not only gets everyone in the same room (virtual or physical), but sets the tone for what will get done during the meeting and even in the weeks after. Ultimately, superior preparation leads to better meetings, and better outcomes for the nonprofit over time.
Feel free to skip to the tools or info you find most helpful, or read the entire article for a comprehensive view:
Before we start preparing for any meeting, it is important that everyone knows what tools will be used for communication. This is especially true in this virtual era, when coordinating information can be more challenging. No more xeroxing committee reports to hand out right before a meeting!
Ideally, whatever tools you select for the meeting should be simple to learn and use, and minimize effort needed to prepare. After all, the more barriers we remove from preparation, the more likely our board members are to review all material before the next meeting.
Sometimes the hardest part of planning a meeting is just finding a time that works best for all the invitees. Busy work and family schedules make lining up even an hour when everyone is free extremely difficult.
Rather than sending a hundred “What about this time?” emails back and forth to the group, you can use an app. The Doodle app is great for presenting a variety of options for invitees to select from, or use the Meeting Scheduler tool in Boardable to quickly pick the best option. Whatever method you use, be sure that it accomplishes the task with minimum friction so you don’t lose the attention of your attendees.
Once you have found the ideal date and time for the meeting, the next critical step is making sure everyone knows where to find the meeting details easily. If you are on a nonprofit board and multiple committees, keeping track of all the meeting times and places can be a nightmare. Be sure to provide the meeting details in a variety of channels– email, digital calendars, on the agenda, etc.
Using the Boardable Meeting Center, users can easily see a summary of all their upcoming meetings, with date and time. Clicking on the individual meeting shows the location, attendee list, agenda, and related documents. Meeting times are easily integrated with personal calendars, so everyone knows when to be where.
Probably the most impactful part of meeting preparation is the important information board members can review before the meeting. This may include committee reports, financial spreadsheets, past minutes, and of course the meeting agenda. By providing these documents well in advance and in a central location, you increase the chance that board members come to the meeting ready to discuss and vote on critical matters.
There are any number of online storage options you can use to circulate your documents, such as Dropbox, Google Drive, or email chains. Make sure that everyone knows where to find them and has the necessary passwords or permissions to see them at any time. Consider researching central board portals to combine meeting planning AND document storage more simply.
These simple tool features will go a long way to streamlining your meeting planning. Make sure your team is familiar with these tools by including a short tech tools tutorial in your board member or staff orientation. Some board members may be reluctant to admit they don’t understand how to use an app, so providing proactive resources can be a big help.
This may seem like the simplest task of all, but there are actually several important factors to consider. Not only do you need to find a date and time for everyone to attend, but you need to consider accessibility and decide how you will track RSVPs.
Nonprofits need to be considerate of all kinds of accessibility concerns, whether the meeting is in-person or virtual. Be mindful of physical locations that are not only difficult to access, but may have too much ambient noise or inadequate acoustics, as well as lighting and visual aids for shared documents.
Be sure to provide materials enough ahead of time that meeting attendees can adapt all materials accordingly. Of course, always be mindful of the volume of the presenter and be sure to provide adequate breaks during long meetings.
You’ve carefully selected the meeting details, but there is no point in meeting if you won’t have a quorum or key attendees. Finding a way to record RSVPs prior to the meeting not only helps avoid a poorly attended meeting, but it can also help provide feedback to board members about their performance.
For example, using the Reports feature in Boardable, an admin can compare board members’ RSVP trends with their attendance record. Busy board members may not realize they have a habit of no-showing, so a clear record facilitates that important conversation.
You can encourage board members to RSVP using whatever calendar invitation you select. Keep in mind you may need to send several reminders prior to the meeting to get an accurate count of who is planning to attend. Not only do reminders encourage attendance, they may also prompt attendees to do their own meeting preparation. For example, we generally recommend a reminder one week and one day before a monthly meeting.
It seems counterintuitive that part of preparing for a meeting is looking at the last meeting, but it’s the best way to ensure progress between meetings. Not only do tasks assigned from the previous meeting need to be accounted for, but committee reports and decisions need to be resolved, too.
Part of recording the minutes from each meeting should include the assigned tasks from the previous meeting. Each member is responsible for completing what they commit to, but some more complex projects may require a check-in from the board chair. This is less about policing productivity as it is helping board members overcome any obstacles to progress.
Meetings aren’t the only time decisions can be made by a board! Speed up productivity by using a digital polling app to finalize smaller decisions that don’t require a formal board vote. The board chair should make sure all needed members have weighed in on a matter and add the conclusion to the agenda for the next meeting.
Similarly, committees should meet between board meetings with adequate timing to provide their committee reports to the board chair to include in the meeting prep documents. The goal is to have all unfinished business wrapped up before the next meeting so that directors have all the information they need to guide the nonprofit during their time together.
We all know that preparing an agenda is a necessary step to get ready for the next meeting, but it includes more than just outlining discussion topics. The agenda is the tool that the entire board will use to prepare for the meeting. If we want a productive and efficient meeting, it is crucial we not only make a strong agenda, but that we provide it in advance so everyone can actually use it. Read all about creating the ideal agenda in our free article here.
Include names of board members to lead various parts of the agenda to keep everyone engaged. With each item, identify the issue, the information available to address it, the steps to take, and who’s in charge. With each item, who will do what, and by when? Then, place time limits right into the meeting agenda. Assign a start and finish time for each item. This way the board knows when it’s running behind, and strives to avoid excessive banter and tangents.
Distribute the agenda at least a week before the meeting. Supply enough time ahead of the meeting to encourage people to come prepared. Give your board chair, executive director, and any other presenters a chance to provide feedback on the order of items and how much time is needed for each topic. This needs to be done far enough in advance to include any adjustments in the agenda you provide meeting attendees a week before.
As important as the agenda is, there are other board documents that members need to prepare adequately for a meeting. These documents vary by organization and meeting type, of course, but here is a good list to start with.
As with the agenda, it is important to distribute these needed documents with enough time for directors to review them before the meeting. Most experts suggest distributing the documents a week before the meeting for adequate prep time.
Each agenda can be built from scratch, or copied from a similar previous meeting. A meeting attendee and time estimate is assigned to each item. Once the agenda is circulated, attendees know exactly which agenda items they are responsible for, and how much time they are allotted.
The agenda’s usefulness doesn’t end when the meeting commences. The agenda built in Boardable converts to a Minutes Maker tool, recording the meeting live.
If you need to settle a dispute, or reach out for guidance, a copy of these important details will help ensure you stay on track. Have governing details on hand to refer to any time you meet. Chances are you will not need them every time, but you won’t have to waste time finding board meeting documents.
Up-to-date reporting on your regular finances and cash flow makes it easy for the board to make informed decisions. A broad look at finances can and should be presented to the board. However, having details on paper that can easily be referred to is a must as well.
Board members should be able to see at a glance what is coming up in their board meeting documents. Moreover, this allows them to allocate time and resources. Having a calendar that lists all upcoming events ensures you are prepared and that every topic makes it to the agenda. A calendar also prevents surprises and gives your members a chance to buy in to the initiatives they are most interested in.
From donor letters to shareholder communications, your board should receive copies of your most important emails and letters. This allows everyone to see where you stand at a glance. These board meeting documents can open up important decisions into strategy for your board.
Having the paperwork and documents your board needs is an essential part of meeting success. When your board can easily access the information they need to make wise decisions, it is easier for all involved to move forward.
Part of providing this important information is capturing the events of the meeting in accurate meeting minutes. This crucial document not only potentially protects your organization in legal or ethical matters, it helps new board members understand the past of the organization and allows all members to prepare for the next meeting.
Designate someone ahead of time to take minutes, usually the board secretary. This person should have attention to detail, but also know how to be impartial and concise.
Taking minutes during a meeting can require a lot of concentration. In order to allow the minutes taker to be as engaged as possible in the meeting proceedings, it is important to have a framework ahead of time for minutes. Some organizations simply use the agenda and add details. Others start from a blank page and record from scratch, since items often get out of order during a live meeting.
Outside of the obvious outcomes of a typical meeting such as votes and budget reports, be sure to capture actionable details for your team. Tasks assigned, along with a timeline and individuals responsible, topics that need further research (and who will do it), requests for committee work, and so on should all be recorded.
You can read an extensive guide on how to plan for excellent board meeting minutes in our comprehensive article.
Board members who come ready to knowledgeably contribute to a meeting are its most influential participants. They vote with confidence, anticipating an informed outcome, as they use the meeting to discuss information that’s already familiar. This keeps the discussion tight, informed, and focused.
You owe it to your busy and enthusiastic colleagues on the board to make preparation as simple as possible. These tips can make your meetings better than ever!