American humorist Dave Barry once observed, “If you had to identify, in one word, the reason why the human race has not achieved, and never will achieve, its full potential, that word would be [board] meetings.”
Meetings aren’t a four-letter word, but they might as well be. Many of us spend our days as slaves to our calendars, going from one conference room to another in the hopes of driving our organizations forward. But the reality is that meetings often fail to accomplish what we need them to and we leave them no better off than before. A frustrating experience to be sure.
But while meetings may be part of your workday, it’s helpful to remember they’re part of your board of director’s free time.
Board meetings can be about reporting metrics, answering questions and having your performance judged, but these meetings can accomplish much more than that. Board meetings are the most useful when they focus on a common goal: charting the organization’s future, not scrutinizing its past.
In our recent webinar, Get Your Board on Board, Personify explored a number of ways to improve your relationship with your nonprofit’s board and shared four strategies to help you optimize your time together.
1. Get Organized
Before involving anyone else, take the time to cover the basics. Know your audience, understanding their expectations and their knowledge of the topic. Be aware of any pre-existing attitudes around what you’re planning to discuss and consider how it impacts them. Reflect on how your initiatives align with the strategic plan. Always ask, how does this help us:
- Grow revenue
- Increase engagement
- Streamline work
- Create a clear view of organizational health
- Reduce costs
2. Find Friends
If you find that one of the board members responds particularly favorably to your pitch when you give it to them one-on-one, see if they’ll agree to be your advocate. In advance of the meeting, collaborating with an advocate can help you clarify:
- Blind spots in your pitch that might need improvement.
- What board members’ primary concerns might be.
- Any questions members might ask.
- Areas where you might need to do further research.
- If your idea is well-founded or needs significant reworking.
3. Plan the Conversation
Send the agenda in advance, ideally 72-hours before the meeting. Offer a preview call to answer questions and solicit feedback. This gives you a chance to ensure every board member truly understands your perspective and turns up on the day ready for a productive discussion. If they disagree with a decision, you will understand why. If you want their support for a hard decision, you can figure out where they stand before the meeting. Think of your pre-meeting like a congressional whip “counts the vote.” Pre-calls can also help you with 1–1 rapport building so that you’re more in control of the room when you’re all together.
4. Go Into the Main Event Prepared
Be aware of your biases, challenging them and asking yourself if they’re serving your organization? Frame the conversation, providing the context and background to ensure all parties are on the same page. Show that you’ve done your due diligence by presenting facts gathered and share options for consideration. Ask questions and facilitate a broad conversation, ideally led by your advocate. Address critical feedback with the feel-felt-found formula:
- Acknowledge how the board member feels, “I understand how you feel. This investment represents a lot of money.”
- Offer an example of someone who felt the same way, “The Association for American Professionals shared similar concerns when they were looking to upgrade their constituent management tools.”
- Share what your example found in terms of results, “Ultimately they decided to move forward and found that the new features allowed them to save significant staff time, as much as 8 hours per week.”
Board meetings don’t have to be stressful, tense events. Run effectively, board meetings can move your nonprofit closer to its goals. They can provide support and encouragement to your staff. Every moment you spend preparing for your board meeting is a minute invested in the meeting’s productivity helping you eliminate stress and improving your nonprofit’s overall performance.