When it comes to scheduling board meetings, some associations adhere to a strict monthly schedule, others do a less frequent schedule of bimonthly or quarterly meetings. It’s difficult to cover all the necessary agenda issues with fewer annual meetings than that. The Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance recommends a “minimum of three evenly spaced meetings per year of the full governing body with a majority in attendance, with face-to-face participation” in their Standards for Charity Accountability.
Either more or less frequent meetings each have their advantages and disadvantages. More frequent meetings give you time to fully cover more issues but can also allow more time for conversations to stray off topic. Plus, it can sometimes be difficult to arrange enough attendance at every meeting, especially during the holidays and summertime. Quarterly meetings can be easier for members to manage into their schedules, but you will need to be particularly effective at covering more ground in each meeting and there will be less time for brainstorming or exchanging ideas.
Assuming that you have settled on a good meeting frequency that works for your association, keeping the conversation and topics on track is important to ensure that your board doesn’t feel that their time is being wasted and that all important business is attended to.
Some advice on holding effective board meetings:
Have a written agenda
Board meetings should not be a free-for-all of discussion on any and all topics anyone wants to introduce without any set order. If you do not already do so, you should have a formal structured agenda (in writing) for every meeting. A standard agenda should include:
- A call to order – The chair calls the meeting to order and may make some welcoming remarks, introduce new members and so on.
- Approval of the agenda – If any members have requests for changes to the agenda that were not made prior to the meeting, they may request them at this time.
- Approval of minutes from the last meeting – All members should have received a copy of the minutes from the last meeting prior to the current meeting to check for accuracy. If they have any revisions to the minutes, they can make them at this time.
- Reports from directors and committee heads – Your directors and heads of committees should each make a report and give updates on their area of responsibility within the association.
- Old business – Any unresolved old business from past meetings should be discussed at this time.
- New business – Any new business, ideas for growth, new initiatives and the like can be discussed during this portion of the meeting.
- Comments, announcements, discussion – The floor is opened up to any other association-related topics that a member would like to discuss.
- Adjournment – Formal closing of the meeting by the board chair and setting the date for the next meeting.
Be sure to send out the agenda to all board members in advance with plenty of time for them to add or amend any business that they may want to address.
If you find that you are adhering to a strict meeting agenda but are still running over the scheduled time, you may want to consider holding more frequent meetings or introducing other between-meeting discussion channels for addressing issues, circulating ideas, posing questions and brainstorming. Which brings us to the next tip:
Don’t let meetings be the only time you communicate with board members.
If quarterly meetings are the only times you see and converse with your board members, you may find your meetings continually becoming bogged down in issues and discussions that could have been more easily dealt with in a one-on-one conversation. Some topics would also be more effective if mentioned in advance so members could do some research and reflection, coming to the meeting with more fully-formed ideas and opinions.
Email can be a cumbersome way to communicate with numerous members on multiple projects and issues. There are a number of great online collaboration tools like Slack or Microsoft Teams to help you better manage communications with your members. With these tools, you can organize discussions into channels (or threads, subjects) like “Fundraising,” “Annual Benefit,” “Volunteers,” “Annual Report,” “Off Topic,” and so on. This allows you and your members to share messages, attach files and links and have an easily accessible archive of previous discussions to refer to.
Plan special sessions for socializing and longer-form discussion.
If your organization is prone to having a lot of small details to be dealt with at board meetings, that can leave little time for long-range planning, brainstorming and more intensive discussions about future projects or bigger-picture initiatives. It’s a great idea to arrange special meetings from time to time to tackle one or two big issues like large potential projects, visions and goals.
Your members also likely want to get to know each other, and the board meeting doesn’t always allow much time for socializing and networking. Members forming relationships is essential to keeping them invested in your association. Plan for occasional “membership happy hours” or other casual get-togethers to allow your board to connect with each other and share ideas.
Other Board Meeting Tips:
- Be sure that all members know what is required of them at the meeting, whether they need to present anything or prepare or read up on any particular subjects.
- Keep your agenda concise and doable. Focus on the most important points of business, and then if there is time, other subjects can be introduced during the discussion period.
- Survey your members occasionally to see what they think is or is not working at meetings.
- On a hotly debated issue, ensure that everyone has a chance to have their say. If the decision can be delayed until the next meeting, do so. Let everyone have a chance to think on it and you’ll want any absent members to be able to weigh in as well. If consensus can’t be found, put the issue to a vote and go with the majority.