Do Less

Board members are talented, experienced, and knowledgeable leaders. They know how to be effective. They achieve success by taking on one issue and focusing on it until it is resolved.

Many nonprofit boards try to do too much. Their agendas are cluttered with marketing decisions, programing needs, financial decisions, fundraising challenges plus the usual reports and personnel matters. Planning should be on the agenda but everyone agrees this month’s agenda is full. Each topic receives very little attention due to the time constraints. Effectiveness is very low.

The current process works because each topic only has one choice. It is unnecessary to discuss the issues or take a vote. However, everyone has to wait while the matter is layed out and the vote is called. It is time that could have been used more effectively. Since the only thing being asked of the board members is patience, there is a low level of board engagement.

Your board needs to approach its meetings the same way its members approach their daily activities. They have many topics on their to-do lists but they only work on one item at a time. In addition, they take each item to a logical stopping point then move on to the next item. Boards want to resolve each item before moving on. However, due to time constraints all the boards can do is give each item superficial attention. None of the members achieved professional success by doing things in a superficial way.

Boards need to simplify their agendas to contain only one item. The one item should be the most important item rather than the most urgent item. By their nature, urgent items are always operational or tactical. Tactical items are the domain of the committees. Operational items are the domain of the staff.

When the agenda is sent out to the board it should be accompanied by a description of the item, the options and the pros, cons, features, advantages, benefits, and value of each option. The agenda should identify the decision to be made, the next step, and any context necessary to help the board members better understand the situation. Now the meeting can be devoted to making a highly effective decision after having a well-informed discussion.

If there truly are several important matters that need prompt attention, the board can schedule weekly meetings until all of the matters receive attention. Each week can be focused on one topic. The need for weekly meetings will be rare.

Next Step:

Limit board meetings to one truly important matter

Ensure the agenda and supporting materials provide the board members with the background and detailed information they need about each option

Provide the materials to the members in sufficient time for them to read and digest the materials

Give the members time to deliberate before asking them to vote< Be prepared to postpone the vote

If consensus is elusive, it suggests that there are unexplored issues. It is important to explore those issues. Consensus is important because the matter is important. You have many talented board members with diverse skills and experiences. Their concerns are probably well founded and addressing those concerns will increase your probability of success, the potential to raise the effectiveness of your mission, increase client outcomes, engage donors, and increase sustainability.

Limiting the board meeting to one truly important matter will help to increase board engagement. Board members will leave the meeting feeling like they have helped the mission, helped clients, and increased sustainability. Engaged board members are more likely to be generous donors, recruit other volunteers, and advocate for your mission and clients.

Take It Further:

Ask your stakeholders to help you prioritize your important matters (it helps them feel important and ensures that your nonprofit is responsive to its support network)

Use your list of important matters to inform your board member recruiting (the right talent for the right decisions)

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