The Four Types of Nonprofit Meetings Every Organization Needs to Succeed

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Meetings might not be the most glamorous topic, especially now, when most of them are taking place on Zoom and Skype, but they have an undeniably huge impact on the lives of most nonprofit professionals.  

The average mid-level employee spends 35 percent of their time in meetings. For those in senior roles, this number can skyrocket to 65 percent or higher. And I’m willing to bet these figures are even higher than average in many nonprofit organizations, where meeting-happy cultures are commonplace. 

Meetings are a necessary evil. It’s hard to imagine moving important priorities and changes to our organizations forward without them. But a great number of the meetings that fill many of our days are simply unproductive and ineffective. At the same time, many organizations fail to make time for the sorts of meetings that are absolutely essential. 

Meetings are a necessary evil. It’s hard to imagine moving important priorities and changes to our organizations forward without them. Click To Tweet

Let’s simplify the meeting mess and talk about the only four types of meetings nonprofits truly need to be successful. They include: 

Annual Planning Meetings

Whether you create a new strategic plan yearly, every three years, every five years, or on some other schedule, your nonprofit must hold annual planning meetings to set the tone for the year ahead. Here’s what should happen leading up to and during those annual planning meetings.

Annual Goal and Priority Setting

In the last quarter of each fiscal year, the CEO should meet with the leaders of each department/functional area of the organization and the board (or board executive committee) to review progress over the last year. They should discuss what goals and priorities need to look like on both an organization-wide level, and on the level of individual programs/departments over the next year. These goals might be laid out in your strategic plan ahead of time, but if you plan on any frequency greater than an annual one, your goals will likely need to be re-assessed and change over time.

Annual Activity Planning

Following the Annual Goal and Priority Setting, the CEO, key leadership staff and the board president/board committee chairs should work together to develop a one-year activity plan that gets added to their current strategic plan. Then, leaders of each department, program or functional area of the organization should do the same with their plans for their departments. These activity plans should lay out the most important things that need to happen to carry forward the goals and priorities set for the year. Much of this planning can be done collaboratively in small groups.

Annual All-Staff Update

In the first quarter of each fiscal year, the CEO should host a meeting for the full staff to review progress from the previous year and share the organization’s goals, priorities and a high-level view of its activity plans for the upcoming year. Leaders of each department/program/functional area should then share a high-level view of their own activity plans for the upcoming year. Finally, staff should be invited to ask questions or provide input.

Quarterly Checkup Meetings

A great deal can change over the course of a year. If you didn’t believe that going into 2020, you probably do now. That’s why organizations need a series of quarterly checkup meetings to adjust their annual plans and stay on track as the year carries on. The quarterly checkup meetings should include: 

Quarterly Leaders Meeting

Each quarter, prior to the quarterly board meeting that most organizations already have scheduled, the CEO should meet with the leaders of each department/function/program to review departmental activities completed, goals accomplished and metrics hit/missed from the previous quarter. In this meeting, they should also review each department/function/program’s activity plans and determine if adjustments are needed for the following quarter.

Quarterly Board Meeting

Each quarter, the CEO should meet with the entire board of directors to review organization-level activities completed, goals accomplished and metrics hit/missed from the previous quarter. The CEO should update the board on adjustments to strategy, and seek input where needed. Each board committee should also provide an update on their committee’s activities.

Quarterly All-Staff Update

Each quarter, following the Board Meeting, the CEO should update the entire staff via metrics and performance from the previous quarter, adjustments to the organization’s goals and strategy, and plans for the upcoming quarter.

Monthly Mission Meetings

It’s what happens in between your annual and quarterly meetings that can make or break your nonprofit’s success. 

Each month, the CEO should meet with a group that includes the leader of each department/program/function to review performance metrics from the previous month, discuss progress against the activities in the activity plans and the work each function is doing to contribute. They should also work through short-term issues in each department/program/function that is inhibiting progress. Notes should be compiled from these meetings so that they can inform what your team focuses on at the quarterly meetings.

Weekly Work Sessions 

It might sound extreme, but if you want your organization to become truly extraordinary, you can’t let even a single week pass where you lose focus on your organization’s most important goals and the work each team can do to advance the mission.

Each department/program/functional team should meet weekly to discuss progress on the activities and goals established in the plan that applies to their job function. During these weekly work sessions, they should work through issues that are inhibiting the team’s progress. We’re big fans of using an issues list like the one suggested in the Entrepreneurial Operating System to track the most important issues that need to be discussed from week-to-week. Using an issues list and adding to it in real-time (treating it as a running agenda) keeps weekly work sessions extremely productive, and in our experience, eliminates the need for the vast majority of one-off meetings that used to fill our calendars.

Clean up your calendar

Do you have these four types of meetings on your schedule? If not, set them now, and stick to them closely. When you do, I’m willing to bet you’ll find that many of the other meetings that currently crowd your calendar will no longer be necessary.

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