Seven Tips for Successful Board Meetings
As summer ends and we prepare for a new season, I would like to share a few personal tips I’ve applied over the years to create interesting and successful board meetings.
The organizations I support are focused on growth and increased fundraising (since that’s precisely what I do!). A few are in the midst of multi-million fundraising campaigns, while others are just getting started. As I constantly repeat, attracting and engaging great board members is the basic building block to success.
Follow these seven practices to create a positive atmosphere for successful board meetings
Performance: A board meeting is like a good show. Everything should be choreographed; all must be carefully aligned. Let your agenda flow and build, not putter along. Develop a surprise, build up the story and keep everyone's attention. When the meeting is over, everyone should think: “I'm glad I came!!”. Envision the show in advance, and tweak it until it's a hit. Don't leave things to chance and don't let it be boring!
True Focus: You must take care of business, but that is not your primary goal. It’s like travel arrangements. The trip itself is the goal, not the arrangements. Be clever and identify at least two non-routine objectives that you really want to explore during the meeting. That should be your primary focus. Do not waste the opportunity to engage your board on thoughtful issues that can have way more impact than a necessary but routine approval.
Cultivation: Board meetings provide natural opportunities to have board members identify new supporters, relationships, and friends. But please be subtle and thoughtful. For example, share a real-life example of how someone on the current board got involved. Bounce a few names around. Keep it casual and easy, and listen as the discussion grows. Don't just read lists of names.
The Chair: The Chair’s job is to manage the meeting, not overpower the members. Get together in advance to discuss how to best engage others. If your Chair is making speeches, or worse - lecturing, then you are on the wrong track. He or she should conduct the orchestra, not play all the instruments. If you're stuck, consult with a peer to provide ideas on how to involve others.
Pivot: Get different points of view during the meeting, don't allow groupthink to dominate. I’ll never forget a campaign meeting where we were headed off the cliff. I asked one trusted board member to comment. Thankfully, he had the courage to say, “I'm sorry, but I really don't believe this will work”. It made a huge difference. Do not just “go with the flow”, stop the train when needed and get help!
Real Gratitude: The best recognition “just happens”, even if it was pre-planned. Natural thank you's have a lot more impact than some formal agenda item with a list of “kudos ” (Listed kudos are a special pet peeve of mine, it's so artificial!). Involve your board members in thanking their peers, make it fun and a natural part of your organizational culture. Choreograph.
7. Logistics: Finally, I’ve participated in too many meetings where rotten logistics ruin the meeting. Test everything! The computer doesn’t work, the PC cord won't connect with your Mac, the files are corrupted, the internet password is wrong, the wifi signal is weak, the YouTube video won’t load, the zoom link is wrong, the calendar notice is unclear, no contact information is available for lost members, the financial statements require a microscope to review, the parking lot is full, the bathroom is locked, the meals are so tightly wrapped it takes a hacksaw to get to the food . . . . it’s endless! So this is the time to think of everything that could go wrong, and prepare solutions!!
Board meetings are performances with specific objectives, some obvious, some not. Think, plan, be creative, practice, prepare, expect the unexpected and create excitement, challenge your members to speak out, and then get ready for lift-off!
At the end of the meeting, ask yourself, was this meeting really worth going to? If the answer is not a strong "Yes!", then you are missing out.
I've had the good fortune to plan, implement and survive a great number of wonderful board meetings, along with a few pretty bad ones. I'll be happy to share ideas.
Look forward to helping.
Sincerely, Rolando D. Rodriguez, CFRE