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Running a nonprofit board meeting: The complete guide

February 12, 2021
A group of board members sit around a table in an office.

As the chair of a nonprofit organization’s board, you understand the importance of preparing for board meetings. Going into a board meeting with a solid game plan increases members’ ability to make key decisions about organizational operations and determine the best next steps.

To make your nonprofit board meeting as effective as possible, this guide will walk through the steps you should take before, during, and after the meeting. While these recommendations are structured around monthly meetings, they can easily be adapted to quarterly board meetings as well.

Before a nonprofit board meeting

Prepare the agenda

The sooner you have the agenda ready for your next board meeting, the easier it will be for each member to prepare. Your board meeting agenda should not only encourage productive discussions but also engage board members so they leave feeling energized and prepared to take action.

As you develop an agenda for your nonprofit board meeting, keep these tips in mind:

  • Define agenda items in terms of goals and outcomes to increase productivity.
  • Set a reasonable time limit for each discussion so you can cover as many of your planned talking points as possible.
  • Arrange items in order from most to least important to engage members from the beginning and ensure you get to the most essential topics.
  • Make sure each item is relevant to your organization’s purpose and your board’s interests.

Your standard board meeting procedures should be the first point on your agenda, including approval of the previous meeting’s minutes and routine reports. Then, use the action plans from your previous board meeting, your organization’s strategic plan, and upcoming calendar items to determine the remaining agenda items. Before you finalize the agenda, connect with your board president for any additional status updates or priorities you need to factor into the meeting.

Compile information packets

Once you’ve finalized your meeting agenda, create an information packet to distribute to board members. This should include:

  • Committee updates
  • Fundraising reports
  • Financial documents
  • Relevant organizational data
  • Information about upcoming events and opportunities to get involved at your nonprofit

Compile these documents using an online file-sharing platform such as Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive, or Dropbox. This way, board members can conveniently access all of the documents they need with one link. Using your donor management system’s communication tools is another great way to ensure files get through.

Send out meeting reminders

At least one week before the meeting, send a reminder email to your board members. In this email, confirm the meeting date and time and share the link to the information packet. If you’re hosting the meeting virtually or in a hybrid format, provide details about how to join the call. 

Besides ensuring that board members have the meeting on their calendars, a reminder gives them a chance to read through materials, take notes, and prepare questions in advance. Providing an opportunity for members to look through the information in its entirety will allow everyone to read as much or as little as they need to make your meeting more productive.

During a nonprofit board meeting

Respect members’ time

Board members lead busy lives, so respecting their time will keep them engaged and lead to a more effective meeting. To ensure your board meetings are productive, make sure to:

  • Start and end the meeting at the designated time.
  • Stick to the agenda as much as possible.
  • Keep side conversations to a minimum.

To help implement these strategies, some board chairs add a section to the end of the agenda for additional discussions called the “parking lot.” If a topic unrelated to the agenda but still worthy of discussion comes up, get the board’s consent to move the discussion to the parking lot. Once you’ve covered all the main topics for the meeting, you can return to this conversation. Then, you can determine if you have time to make a decision about it before this meeting ends or if it should be pushed to the next meeting’s agenda.

Focus on decisions and action items

At one time or another, you’ve probably left a meeting thinking, “This could have easily been an email.” Make the most of your board meetings by focusing on decision-making, rather than just letting board members know what is going on at your nonprofit (which you could easily accomplish in an email).

Because you sent out an information packet before the meeting, members should have everything they need to discuss next steps. You might need to answer questions or update members on any changes that occurred between when you sent the packet and the day of the meeting, but you’ll likely be able to move through this discussion fairly quickly and spend most of each meeting’s time on action items.

Take thorough meeting minutes

During each meeting, ensure you have a secretary or dedicated staff member taking minutes. These minutes serve several purposes, including:

  • Providing transparency in nonprofit decision-making.
  • Letting members who couldn’t attend know what they missed.
  • Confirming which members will complete each action item.
  • Serving as a reference for planning the next meeting’s agenda.

Rather than being a verbatim record of everything that happened, effective meeting minutes should cover all topics that were discussed and any important decisions the board made. Taking this approach will provide just the right amount of information needed for future reference.

After a nonprofit board meeting

Follow up with board members

The day after a board meeting, send a follow-up email to board members. Distribute the meeting minutes and highlight key action items. That way, your board can start working on their action items as soon as possible.

Also, remember to thank members for their time and recognize their contributions. When board members understand the impact of their role, they will feel more motivated to dedicate time and effort to the organization.

Meet with nonprofit staff members regarding board decisions

Schedule a meeting with your nonprofit president and other leaders to discuss key decisions you made in the last board meeting and prioritize future actions for the board. Staff members can then provide insights into how the board’s activities align with the organization’s operations.

This meeting helps ensure that your nonprofit’s board and staff are on the same page about your goals and priorities. It also helps unify your nonprofit by making everyone aware of how they will further your organization’s purpose .

Run the perfect board meeting

The process of planning and running a nonprofit board meeting is a cycle. Once you’ve met with nonprofit staff members, it’ll be time to prepare the next meeting’s agenda. Each time you go through the process, note what went well and what could be improved, so you can make each month’s board meeting more successful than the last.

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