This blog was submitted by Suzy Cole, Co-Founder of Village Legal Hub
Now THAT was a Great Nonprofit Board Meeting!
If you’ve ever worked for a nonprofit organization or served on a nonprofit board of directors, today’s blog is for you! As a former nonprofit executive director and as an attorney with Village Legal Hub, LLC, Suzy Cole has years of experience advising nonprofit organizations. Suzy knows what it takes to ensure a great nonprofit board meeting, but it might not be what you think.
You might hear those congratulatory words if you facilitate a 30-minute board meeting with zero questions from, well, anyone. Somehow, we folks in nonprofit-land have come to define a great board meeting as a short one.
As a former executive director, I remember feeling pressure to keep the meetings of the board short and simple. I tried to anticipate questions and keep things moving, so all of my very busy directors could get back to work or home to children and other responsibilities. Other EDs say they feel the same way—they want to be respectful of their volunteer directors’ time, so they put a great deal of effort into hashing through issues ahead of time or with the board chair or executive committee to spare the whole board the long ordeal of tackling tough topics.
What’s wrong with that? A lot! We know we should strive for a diverse board of directors with varied backgrounds, experience, and skill sets. The whole idea is to bring together this wealth of knowledge and life experience to ensure the organization is making wise decisions, right? But what often happens is a handful of people sifts through the information, bakes it into a pie, and serves it up to the board with a cherry on top.
The result is a quick meeting with little meaningful discourse, and sometimes, an unwise decision. What’s more is that the directors responsible for the bad decision may have a hard time showing they complied with their statutory duty of care to the nonprofit. (You may have heard about these duties, perhaps at a board retreat or orientation. It’s the duty that requires a director to make an informed vote, and yes, read those packets!)
Another result of such a “great” meeting is that some directors ask themselves why they even showed up. “Someone else figured all of this out and then I came in, ate lunch, gave a thumbs up, and went back to work.” Those directors are prone to space out in the meeting because they are bored. They also may lose their passion or look for another way to use their talents—and treasure!
Let’s redefine a great board meeting as one where all directors are engaged and thinking. Let’s foster an organizational culture that encourages questions and speaking up. Let’s defer to the entire board on the tough matters, not just a subset. And if there is no reason to meet, let’s not meet. (That is, unless our bylaws make us. That’s another blog post altogether.)
Suzy Cole is an attorney who advises nonprofit organizations and thinks board meetings can be productive and maybe even fun.