An agenda is a powerful tool for helping the board attend to what matters. The chair uses the agenda to help the board accomplish its work, make the best use of time, and filter out extraneous topics. Having the agenda at least a week in advance allows directors to plan local travel, read relevant documents, and begin thinking about issues to be discussed. The agenda provides staff with direction on what facilities and equipment to provide, what data might be needed, and what questions may be asked. Here are five ways to focus the agenda of every board meeting:
At a minimum, the header includes the name of the organization, with the date, time, and location of the meeting. This is handy for board members who travel in for the meeting, especially when the location changes from time to time. In addition, I find it useful to include the organization’s mission statement or intended outcomes — as a visual reminder of the board’s intended results. I also recommend noting time slots for the meeting segments, breaks, and meals, and a calendar listing of the next few scheduled meetings. If you send the agenda by e-mail, consider hot-linking agenda items to supporting documents that you post online using Evernote, Google Docs, or an online board portal.
The Consent Agenda
David O. Renz, editor of The Jossey-Bass Handbook of Nonprofit Leadership and Management, 4th Ed. and director of the Midwest Center for Nonprofit Leadership, has written that the consent agenda is:
a practice by which the mundane and non-controversial board action items are organized apart from the rest of the agenda and approved as a group. This includes all of the business items that require formal board approval and yet, because they are not controversial, there is no need for board discussion before taking a vote. Items may be on a consent agenda only if all board members agree; if even one member considers a specific item to need discussion, it must be removed and placed on the regular agenda for the board meeting.
Monitoring information evaluates the performance of the organization in terms of the written criteria set by the board. I find it helpful for management to provide a report simply noting where it is in compliance with each board policy. Where it is not compliant, management’s report explains the degree of variance, the cause (if already known), what steps management is taking to correct the variance, and when management expects to be in compliance again. All reporting, analysis, and discussion should be in terms of the board’s expectations as provided in its written policies.
Decision Prep Information
The only decisions the board makes should pertain to policies it sets for itself or for management. In this part of the agenda, the board reviews and discusses information that helps it make informed decisions in each area. This may include salary and compensation surveys, legislative and economic updates, market research, client/donor feedback, and other material pertinent to policy formation.
Board Development Time
Provide some time at each board meeting for enhancing the group’s ability to function effectively. Do a creative problem-solving exercise. Participate in a short webinar. View a TEDTalk online. Have a guest speaker. Or do something together in the area that may have nothing to do with the board’s business. The idea here is to have learning experiences together that help the directors connect with each other and with ideas that help them govern more effectively.
10-Minute Board Discussion
How can we use the agenda to enhance the value of our board and committee meetings?
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