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How to Run a Nonprofit Board Meeting

Why aren’t our board meetings always engaging, informative, educational and productive? While we know that every board meeting can’t be all those things, there are many things we can do to provide our board members with a meeting that values their time and talent. Spending some time at a board meeting to get agreement on how your meetings will be conducted might be just the right thing to start the new year off right and to be on the way to better meetings. Here are some keys to run a nonprofit board meeting well.

how to run a meeting

RELATED: Register for Kim’s board governance Q&A webinar now! 

A Commitment to Attend

Attendance at meetings is important. Ask the group for individual commitments to be present at most meetings. It helps to have a board commitment agreement that outlines an attendance policy, with a requirement for how many meetings must be attended. If you have a consistent problem with attendance, conduct a survey to see if you can identify the reason.

Timely Start to the Meeting

One group I knew always started the meeting right on time. When a late member walked in, the group would stop and applaud and then continue. Tardiness stopped. Likewise, in another group, the member who always came late arrived at one meeting to find everyone’s watches at his place. There was laughter, but the point was made, and he started arriving on time. Before you even worry about how to run a board meeting, make sure everyone is ready to start. 

Actively Listen

Pay close attention to the person who is speaking—not only to the words they’re using but to the message they’re trying to convey. It’s an indication of respect to REALLY listen. Practice taking notes by jotting down the main point of what a person is saying, ignoring the actual words.

Short Committee Reports

Long oral committee reports can drag a meeting down. Committee reports can be simple with bullet points for what the whole board needs to know. At the meeting, board members can ask questions and make comments instead of having to listen to a minute-by-minute account of committee proceedings.

Confidentiality is Key

In executive sessions, confidentiality is essential. What happens in the board room stays in the room. In executive sessions, board members should be confident that it is a safe place to be truthful about issues. You can’t run an effective board meeting if members are afraid to talk.

Everyone Participates

It is vitally important that each person speaks and that no one dominates the discussion. One way to ensure this is to go around the table and ask for comments. If you have more timid members at the table, try breaking the ice with some fun social activities at the beginning of the meeting. Studies show that if everyone speaks at the start of a meeting, they are more inclined to speak up during a discussion. RELATED: What Do You Bring to the (Board) Table?

Keep discussion relevant.

Get agreement from the group to be able to put items that come up that are not relevant to the discussion in the “parking lot” and discussed at another time. 

Disagreement is OK

Don’t be afraid to disagree — respectfully.  The goal is not to agree, but to gain a deeper understanding. It’s important to communicate honestly and speak up if we perceive things differently. State your opinions respectfully and refrain from personal attacks. Focus on ideas. Be soft on people, and hard on ideas.

Board members like to come to meetings that are interesting, efficient and valuable. You will find that time flies and the energy is high if you can follow some of these simple suggestions.


Join us for a special Q&A webinar with board governance “Coach Kim” Donahue on 3/13 at 2pm ET. Submit questions about meeting conduct, nonprofit bylaws, board member recruitment, and more. Kim will answer them live in this webinar! Click below to register for the webinar, and submit your questions!

REGISTER NOW

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