Every board meeting is an opportunity for your association to achieve its mission. Your board can change the circumstances of your members — and even the greater profession — so we must strive to do our best every time. These were among the top messages of our Associations Trends Talk on January 17, 2024.
Takeaway 1: Be mindful about building the meeting agenda
It’s easy to get into the habit of planning a meeting on autopilot. Both Eric Hauth and Tip Tucker Kendall stressed the need to prepare for each meeting thoughtfully and purposefully. Eric has a weekly meeting with his president to stay in touch and on top of issues that emerge between board meetings. He also finds it crucial to incorporate times when each agenda item will be discussed to maintain a good pace for the meeting.
Key for Tip has been simplifying the process for board members. Sending out a single PDF with all the documents the board will need for a meeting — and calling attention to priorities, such as the annual budget — makes it easier for board members to prepare.
Moderator Paul Hanscom added that it’s great to get questions about agenda items from board members in advance of the meeting.
Takeaway 2: Be clear about expectations for your board members
Tip recommended that we keep in mind how much time we demand from our board members. Give them an approximation of the time needed to review the agenda and/or complete tasks in advance of the meeting. She says it’s also critical to prep the chair in advance of the meeting to help keep things on track. And knowing what your board president values makes a big difference in building your relationship. Tip went from a very extroverted person to someone who is very efficient but less focused on relationships.
Eric gave an example of ICRI’s planning retreat, where board members are assigned to tackle individual domains and bring the homework to the planning session. The process created high engagement and high clarity about each domain.
Participant Jalene Bowersmith noted in chat that she does a couple things to help board members better prepare: 1) provide a video recording of less than 5 minutes highlighting the board packet items; 2) include motions on the agenda for each item requiring them.
Takeaway 3: Relationships are the cornerstone of an effective, engaged board
Tip stressed that building your relationship with the board chair/president shapes every meeting you have.
Eric shared that when his current board chair began his term, the chair called every board member individually to ask how the organization can support them, and what they want to get from the experience of serving on the board.
Takeaway 4: Regular assessment will strengthen engagement and drive improvement
Paul noted that feedback is important to the success of a board of directors. Assessments completed after each meeting can provide both quantitative and qualitative measures to help guide future meetings.
Tip shared the importance of having conversations about whether meetings include adequate time for dialogue, resolving conflict, etc. She sends assessment surveys after every meeting, and it helps to keep all board members engaged. Measuring the responses makes a big difference.
Takeaway 5: Volunteer orientation is vital to board member success
Tip said that onboarding helps each board member get up to speed and be successful. Her board meets with their attorney annually to provide board members with knowledge of their legal obligations. Tip’s association also teaches everyone how to read the financial statements. She says meeting with board members individually helps the chief staff executive learn the strengths and opportunities for each board member. Especially when a board has controversial issues to address, it’s important to cover how the board needs to speak with one voice.
Eric stated that his association starts with the basics during the orientation process and then gets into deeper knowledge. He stressed the importance of getting buy-in versus consensus among board members: it may be impossible to get consensus, especially from a large, diverse board — but everyone needs to accept the decision of the board as a whole.