Board members often feel pressed for time. They don’t necessarily prefer to spend days attending a meeting on the other side of the country or even hours driving across town.
Streamlining board governance often includes reducing the number of board meetings and making each meeting more efficient through the use of consent agendas, the absence of routine committee reports, and a focus on major organizational matters rather than operational issues .
A board should meet only as many times as are required to fulfill its role. According to a survey by BoardSource, the largest percentage of boards (41 percent) meets monthly. One in four boards (25 percent) meets bimonthly, with a similar percentage meeting quarterly (24 percent).
Most state laws require an annual meeting at which board members and officers are elected and other necessary business is carried out. Few boards, however, can fulfill their fiduciary duties adequately by meeting only once a year. It may be necessary to meet monthly in the first phase of organizational life, then reduce the frequency to whatever is appropriate for each following phase of the organization’s lifecycle. National or international organizations may convene their boards only a few times per year, although the meetings may last a full two days, and then communicate via conference call or electronically between meetings.
Technology can improve communications and reduce the number of live meetings necessary to get the same amount of work done . Some organizations, for example, keep the same number of meetings but don’t always hold them face to face. They might hold half of their annual meetings in person and half via audioconference. Others use private online forums or listservs that allow for discussion and informal consensus in advance of the official meeting.
As for the physical setting of a board meeting, it should be conducive to large-group work. Perhaps the conference room at the organization’s headquarters fills that bill but a change of scenery once in a while can spark new ways of thinking among board members.
Here are some inventive ways and places to hold board meetings:
A city hall hearing room for a briefing on demographic and economic trends
A tour of the organization’s facility with several “briefing stops” along the way
A visit to a program site where the organization is working
A retreat center in tranquil surroundings conducive to strategic thinking
A place to observe staff members serving the primary beneficiaries of the organization
A high-tech conference room at a local business
A bus tour of sites being served by the organization, with business conducted on the bus
The objective is to make the meeting memorable. Even if the board meeting takes place in a drab conference room, it might include the following:
Informal time for fellowship.
Staff presentations on specific programs or initiatives.
Committee meetings held before or after. (Board members who are already onsite for a board meeting may appreciate this efficiency. The committee, however, should not prepare any resolutions or recommendations for the board meeting immediately following.)
Governance training, including board self-assessment.
The opportunity to meet and mingle with staff, clients, and vendors.
Briefings on the environment in which the organization operates, including other nonprofits, the community, and the local economy.
Bulletin boards with special displays.
Business sessions for formal decisions.
Brainstorming sessions to think about emerging trends and the organization’s future.
An executive session.
SUQQESTED ACTION STEPS
1. Board chair, ask each board member to write down how many meetings per year seem ideal for the organization at this stage in its lifecycle. Average the number and discuss the results.
2. Board members, at least once a year, hold a board meeting in a different or unique location.
- Is a board legally required to hold open meetings?
- How can our board assess and improve its own performance?
- Should board members be evaluated periodically?
- Should board members be compensated?
- How can we engage former board members and chief executives?
- Should we have term limits for board members?
- What should we do about uninvolved board members?
- Should constituents serve on the board?
- What is the boards role and involvement in mission, vision, and values?
- Should members of the same family serve on a board?
- What should we include in our board orientation?
- What does a prospective board member need to know?
- How can our board become more diverse?
- How can a membership organization build an effective board?
- What is the chief executives role in board recruitment?
- How can we recruit active, involved board members?
- How should we select our board officers?
- What board officers should we have?
- What is the ideal relationship between the board chair and the chief executive?
- What are the attributes of a high performing board?