Ten, Ready-to-Go, Plug-and-Play Ideas to Make Your Board Meetings More Productive

Ten, Ready-to-Go, Plug-and-Play Ideas to Make Your Board Meetings More Productive


2 August 2021


By David Allen, Development for Conservation


I’ve been saving up ideas for a blog post about Board meetings for some time – like now.

Short and sweet.

BUT, I would really like it if you piled on here. Got an idea that works for you and keeps everyone happy with your Board meetings? Please add it in the comments.

Here’s my top ten:


  1. Remember the social part: Volunteers report that they had a good experience when they felt like the volunteer activity (in this case, the Board meeting) offered a mission experience (their time was meaningfully spent), a professional experience (it started and ended on time and everything necessary for the job was ready and available), and a social experience (with other people they liked and respected). We need to remember the social part. Go for a walk beforehand, or a beer afterward. Host a potluck. Enjoy yourselves!
  2. Make the agenda more useful: The concept here is easy; the discipline is hard. Every Board member should know just by reading the agenda what it is they are being asked to do. Why am I listening? Where is this going? Most agenda items will be decisions that need to be made, options that need to be brainstormed or explored, or information that needs to be shared. Make it clear from the Agenda which one it is.
  3. Written, seconded motions: For ALL decision items, bring a seconded motion to the meeting in writing. Motions can come to the Board meeting out of committee, and when they do, they are often considered as having already been seconded. When the time comes, the seconded motion is “read” into the minutes, and the Chair can immediately call for discussion. This saves a great deal of time.
  4. Time Limits: All brainstormed items are time-limited. If the purpose of an agenda item is to generate ideas to a particular question or issue, then let it happen without debate for a specific period of time, and then call time and move on. Presumably the person or committee asking the question can take it from there. And if a decision needs to get made tonight, it doesn’t belong in this category.
  5. Take information-only items out of the meeting: Written reports can become part of a consent agenda, presentations can be made at other times including just before or just after the meeting itself. If the only purpose of an agenda item is to communicate an “update,” find another time and place to do that.
  6. Have Board members run the meeting: Board meetings are exercises in organizational governance. This should be a time when Board members talk to each other, pose strategic questions and debate alternatives. The meetings should not be run by staff. If Board members don’t know enough to make the presentations themselves, then that represents a considerable organizational weakness. Staff could help by rehearsing Board members right before the meeting, but they should not serve as surrogates. More lengthy or in-depth staff presentations could be made just before or just after the meeting, or at some other time entirely.
  7. Start off each meeting by encouraging engagement. Use one of the strategic questions needing brainstormed input, or one of the seconded motions to be discussed, but split up into smaller 3-4-person discussion groups for 15 minutes before opening up a more general floor discussion. Aim for 100% engagement. Everybody participates. Everybody talks.
  8. Record Board member commitments: In addition to someone keeping minutes (should be the Secretary), ask someone to keep track of Board member commitments during the meeting. Send around a task list the next day of items that have been delegated and/or responsibilities that have been accepted. Set the expectation that these will be addressed before the next meeting (or by some other date certain).
  9. Say Thank you: Use part of each meeting to help Board members express gratitude for something (donors, volunteers, board service, partnerships, you name it). This might involve making quick phone calls (right from the meeting!), signing little love notes on prepared cards, or accepting some other level of responsibility.  At every meeting.
  10. New role for the Executive Committee: Make it the Executive Committee’s job to make sure every Board member arrives at every meeting completely ready for the business to be conducted. Some Board members read everything sent to them. Some Board members do not think about the organization between the last minute of one Board meeting and the first minute of the next. Most are somewhere in between. To make the most out of every minute the Board is together, every Board member should arrive at every meeting fully understanding what is expected of them on every agenda item. They should understand the issues and already have their basic questions answered. They should understand Why they are listening and Where this is going. Ensuring they get there can be an important role for the Executive Committee.


OK – your turn. Please use the comments below to pile on with your own ideas.


Cheers, and Have a great week!




PS: Your comments on these posts are welcomed and warmly requested. If you have not posted a comment before, or if you are using a new email address, please know that there may be a delay in seeing your posted comment. That’s my SPAM defense at work. I approve all comments as soon as I am able during the day.



Photo by Rob Hennessey courtesy of Stocksnap.io.


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  • Creal Zearing
    Posted at 08:43h, 03 August

    Make sure board materials are ready enough ahead of time to give board members time to read and prepare!! I would suggest at least a week. I’ve been on a board for a while now where materials aren’t ready and sent to board members until on average a day before the meeting. With my busy schedule, that’s never enough time to get to the materials and read them thoroughly before the meeting. Then I feel unprepared and like I can’t be a productive participant in the meeting.

  • Jim Perry
    Posted at 19:51h, 02 August

    I second the idea of a Consent Agenda with written reports. And each board member should be expected to have read the written reports in advance of the meetings. Finally, those providing the written reports should NOT proceed to go over each item in their report because in essence it says “I don’t believe you’ve read my report, so I am going to take the time to tell you what I wrote.” I’ve seen staff read their report aloud, which just was out and out irritating. Ask if there are questions and if not, move on!

    • David Allen
      Posted at 23:08h, 02 August

      Totally agree. Thanks for the comment, Jim!

  • sallyjcross
    Posted at 07:50h, 02 August

    Make sure your agenda has times for each item on it so that board (or staff) who are presenting the item know how long they are expected to speak. Provide talking points to key committee chairs (esp. finance and investment) to keep the update high level and focused on the most important items.

    • David Allen
      Posted at 08:14h, 02 August

      Thanks Sally! Totally agree on containing the finance reports. One meeting each year could be usefully devoted to finance and increasing financial literacy on the Board in general. Spend an hour helping Board members learn to read the most important pieces of financial information. Every year. Then just hit the highlights each meeting from there. The ExecCom task of preparing Board members for the meeting could easily include a financial review for those inexperienced with finances as well.
      Thank you for the suggestion!