A Better Nonprofit Board Meeting Agenda

5 min read

I hate to say it, but a great nonprofit board meeting is hard to come by. Most boards spend too much time on discussions that aren’t mission-critical, and then end up lacking time for the sound strategic discussions needed to help them make informed decisions. Let’s put an end to unproductive nonprofit board meetings by adopting a better board meeting agenda; one that is grounded in your nonprofit’s mission, brings the right information and people to the table, and puts your organization’s strategy at the front and center of the discussion. 

Most boards spend too much time on discussions that aren't mission-critical, and then end up lacking time for the sound strategic discussions needed to help them make informed decisions. Click To Tweet

Start with a mission moment

With quarterly nonprofit board meetings, it can be easy to dive right into the agenda. After all, there’s usually a lot to cover in a short amount of time. However, it’s important to start each meeting by grounding the board and others in the room in your nonprofit’s mission – truly the reason why everyone is there, anyway. One of the best ways to do this is to start your meetings with a mission moment. A mission moment is a short but powerful anecdote that demonstrates your mission in action.

I heard a mission moment recently from a nonprofit board member who was sharing her experience volunteering with youth at a local garden. There were caterpillars everywhere, and one of the youth had never seen a caterpillar before. This board member explained to him that the caterpillar would one day turn into a butterfly, and he was in awe. He had no idea that butterflies started as caterpillars. As she told the story to her fellow board members, she drew parallels between the caterpillar’s transformation and the important work the organization does to support youth development and a youth’s transition to adulthood. I had goosebumps hearing the story.

The mission moment can be shared by a fellow nonprofit board member, your executive director, a member of your staff or by any individual who has been impacted by your work. The moment serves as a way for everyone to reconnect with your mission before diving into the business at hand. 

Develop a board dashboard

Develop a dashboard of key performance indicators that provides your board members with an at-a-glance look at your nonprofit’s financials and progress toward the goals defined in your strategic plan. If there are any exceptions on the monthly financials, the finance committee can do a deep dive and provide a recommendation to the board. Otherwise, there can be a motion for approval from the finance committee chair, which can be approved and documented in the board meeting minutes.

Using a KPI dashboard ensures everyone is (literally) on the same page with where your nonprofit stands, and it will allow you to easily highlight areas of success as well as challenges that may need to be discussed as a group. 

Incorporate staff as appropriate

While executive staff often interface with the board, other members of a nonprofit’s staff can feel disconnected from the board and its directors. If there are agenda items where staff members can provide insights and perspectives that would be helpful, consider inviting them to that portion of the board meeting. This can prevent that feeling of disconnect for staff, and be beneficial for board members as well. These interactions help board members put a face to a name, and give them first-hand insight and input about the day-to-day work happening at your nonprofit.

As an example, your board might be discussing the impacts of COVID-19 on your nonprofit, and whether or not there are changes that need to be made to meet community needs. In this case, you might consider bringing in one of your caseworkers to the board table to hear from them about what they’re hearing from clients.

Spend a majority of time discussing strategic priorities

Most boards adopt a consent agenda to address routine business and updates. This practice allows for ample discussion time during board meetings, which should be spent on your nonprofit’s strategic priorities. You’ll want to put one or two of them on the agenda for each board meeting. You can start this portion of your meetings by identifying the challenge or opportunity you’d like to discuss and allowing board members to ask clarifying questions. Then the group can discuss the issues at hand and conclude by determining the next steps or solution.

For example, your nonprofit may have launched a capital campaign in 2019, with the intention of starting your public phase in late 2020, once 70 percent of your campaign funds have been raised. As a result of COVID, you know you’re going to fall short on your goal. In a strategic discussion, you can bring this to the board, allow them to ask questions and get their insights on how you might reshape the capital campaign as a result of where things stand today. Be sure you end the discussion by defining next steps and who is responsible for taking them.

By becoming more intentional about your board meeting agendas, you can do more to move your mission forward quarter-over-quarter.

It’s time to build a better nonprofit board using a goal-based board matrix.

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