Achieving a High-Performing Nonprofit Board (Part 1 of 3)

Nonprofit organizations must have high-performing boards to help them grow and accomplish their mission. Stagnate and underperforming boards and board members can potentially hinder the organization’s forward progress and prevent it from achieving its goals and fulfilling its mission. In this three-part blog series, we will define what a high-functioning board looks like and discuss ways that an organization can improve its current board.

There is plenty of guidance available today from reputable sources that provide a clear idea of what it means to achieve a high-functioning board. Software is available that helps organizations establish a regular meeting framework, and you can simply attain effective governance by adopting a few meeting changes. BoardSource tells us that high-performing boards are selfish with their time. The time spent together in a meeting is extremely important and should be utilized efficiently and meaningfully.

First, we all know that to have a meeting that truly matters you need to start with the agenda.

Do you have an agenda format/template that you reuse each meeting? Does your agenda span more than one page?

If the answer is yes, then throw away the template and start over.

The agenda should be intentionally structured so most of the time is spent on strategic and generative topics. Here is an example of an intentional agenda structure:

  • Mission moment – connect with the mission
  • Consent agenda
  • Fiduciary responsibilities
  • Generative discussions
  • Executive session if needed
  • Meeting review

You should also consider moving as much meeting material as possible into the “Consent Agenda.” A consent agenda is a group of routine business and reports that can be combined into one agenda item to be approved in one action, instead of filing motions on each item separately. It’s recommended to send out all reports in advance and spend as little time as possible in this area. Read, review, approve and move on.

Items that typically fit into the consent agenda category:

  • Prior meeting minutes
  • The financials
  • CEO/ED report
  • Program/committee reports
  • Staff/volunteer/committee appointments
  • Correspondence that requires no action

Make sure you have defined the Consent Agenda in advance of determining the meeting’s standard agenda. Using a consent agenda can save time, it moves the routine items along quickly so that the board has time for discussing more important matters, like strategic thinking. A gentle reminder to board members, consent agendas are only effective if you have already taken the time to review the documents and items contained in the consent agenda prior to the meeting.

Having a productive board meeting that elevates an organization’s initiatives also requires generative discussion. Generative discussions add value and meaning to a conversation topic. This is the best way to raise the conversation from the board to a higher level. It helps stimulate broad thinking, discuss future programs, ask long-range questions, and stay out of the current, and past results of the organization.

To begin a generative discussion everyone should have the same information, this ensures that all participants share the same baseline of knowledge. Start with one topic, ensure a SAFE place to discuss, set a timer to allow participants to contribute, and conclude with questions: what we have learned what the following tangible steps are (specific action, ongoing monitoring, or nothing additional).

Have any questions or concerns regarding your organization’s board meeting structure? At BerganKDV, we help nonprofits streamline their internal processes by providing industry expertise from team members who serve on boards themselves. Contact us to learn more about the array of solutions we offer to help enhance your organization’s impact.

Stay tuned for my next blog where I will discuss more applicable methods for achieving an effective board meeting structure.


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CATEGORIES: Business Advisory | Nonprofit
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