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"I Survived Another Meeting that Could Have Been an Email"

Friday, October 27, 2017 11:24 AM | Tom Williams (Administrator)



Tom Williams

Capacity Builder

Tom@nonprofnetwork.org




Decision making is the core role of a board of directors. So why do so many boards spend more time sharing information that could’ve been an emailed report instead of having high level, crucial conversations that lead to strong decisions? 


You might be amazed at how many board meetings I have been a part of in the past at which zero decisions were reached. Or maybe you’ve experienced this also. Are your board meetings consumed with verbal reports on the status of this issue or that project or how this person performed during the last 30 days? Informing—while incredibly necessary—is not a good use of your short time together as a full board. Spending board hours giving verbal reports is, at best, barely beneficial and, at worst, a danger to your mission. 


Instead,share data with board members before the meeting via the board packet. Provide those would-be verbal reports as written reports and give your board multiple days to read them and come to the meeting prepared..


Empowered board members assemble to make decisions. However, empowerment requires the members to come already informed. Prior access to data not only makes decisions easier to settle, but also more likely to stay made as well. Board decisions made without solid data have a tendency to make the deciders less confident that their conclusions are correct and will ultimately bring the issue back in front of the board to wrestle again in the not-so-distant future. Examining the issue once and reaching a solid decision that stays made is the best process to build momentum in the organization.


Board members are recruited from the community not for their ability to be updated, but rather so they can use their life skills to reach the best decisions that benefit the organization. It is a misuse of this valuable human resource to assemble simply to hear a report. The misuse is even more egregious if the entire meeting time is about reporting out data. Leaders view their roles differently when they associate board time with reaching solid decisions; one effect of transitioning to a decision-centric board agenda is better attendance.


Imagine a board meeting at which every member is in attendance and already fully informed as to the status of programs, finances, staff and committee efforts—they are empowered by the most relevant data and with full participation of all voices around the table. That is the scene where the mission of your organization is about to be moved forward. Conversely, assembling all these valuable human resources so that they are merely more informed than they had been 90 minutes ago does not advance the mission any further and sets the stage for people to see their board participation as less relevant, or maybe even optional.


Do you know where your board is on the Decision-Informing continuum? Here’s an exercise for you to conduct that will gather data to confirm your assumption:

Review the board minutes from your most recent three board meetings. Take note of time spent informing and time when decisions were discussed and conclusions reached.


Then, at your next board meeting, record how much of your time is spent informing members as to status of finances, staff efforts, program progress, or committee activities, and compare that number with how much time is spent discussing issues and data to reach decisions.


The closer your results are to mostly decision making, the more movement you will see towards mission fulfillment.


Continue this process each month, refining your agenda and practices until the majority of your regular board meetings is spent discussing and making decisions. Make the meeting entirely about decision making and that mission fulfillment will be even more observable.


The transition to conduct decision-centric meeting begins by deciding to change. Then you follow up that decision with new processes and a transition to a meeting agenda that reflects your new direction. 




Want to discuss this transition in more detail?  

Give Tom a call at 517-796-4750 or click the button below.





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