Impactful meetings are one of the key driver for successful NFP boards. Most of the work of the board (discussion and decision making) is carried out at meetings, so NFP Chairs need to make sure that they are impactful ensuring you're getting the outcomes that the board needs.
The critical first step is to get the information pack goes out at least five to seven days beforehand. I know it can be a struggle sometimes, but you need to make sure that people have the time to read the papers. If you are making decisions at the meeting and you want some discussion, you should be flagging this in your correspondence as well - "Please read these particular sections thoroughly because we're going to make a decision relating to these particular areas.
A strong agenda should be developed and communicated, covering all key areas of governance ensuring there's a good balance of governance and day-to-day activity overlayed by strategic needs.
You should be thinking about your meetings across the year to allow for focus on key areas. The number of meetings can depend on the cycle that you're in from an organizational point of view. This includes whether you're in a growth mode, consolidation or in a strategic planning year, you need to think about how these affect your meeting needs balancing the governance, key operational issues and strategy.
A lot of boards get straight into the operational needs, and two or three hours later they haven't talked about any macro issues. All they've really accomplished is reviewing what the CEO has worked on for the past month. Try and get away from this by putting responsibility onto the CEO for the operation of the organization. I know there's a need for balance, but you should be trying to make your meetings are more about governance and strategy coupled with forward thinking.
If you are in a particularly tough year where there's a lot of operational changes with the CEO and senior management team needing a lot of support, try and separate those out. If you need to have some stronger, more robust committee meetings to involve operational discussions, then you should be ensuring that they are convened in addition to the board meeting.
As a Chair, ensuring that the process of convening the actual meaning is carried out in a very clear and inclusive manner is also important. Ensuring that everybody has a potential for input into the meeting itself, and there is that balanced there between presenting information, robust discussion and decision-making.
You should be striving as a chair is to make sure that all meetings are a safe forum for discussion, and ensuring that all the members feel supported. I know this is not an easy task. It's one of the things that I have worked on over many years, and good facilitation skills are invaluable. There is a need to ensure that board members feel safe attending, that they will be listened to, and that the group of people that you have deliberately gathered together for their expertise feel like they can be heard.
Structure meetings for decision-making. Remember your meetings are as much about making decisions as they are about governance and macro issues while delegating down through the CEO. Ensure there is a process around your decision-making, that it isn't just ad-hoc or how the board feels at the time, and building agreement around those decisions.
Clear communication is essential, ensuring it's coming from the CEO, through the Chair, to the board. As a Chair, you're probably talking to the CEO about key issues they feel the board needs to discuss and overlaying them with the issues that the board needs to talk about as well. Ensuring that information flow is free that the CEO feels comfortable about bringing that information up to the board is important.
The minutes should be about ensuring that decisions are clearly documented and include general discussion points if warranted. It shouldn't go into the minutia of all discussions as you can't ensure that every little thing is documented. It's not what the minutes are about. It's about general discussion - what was discussed and those decisions that have been made. You don’t need a court stenographer there.
Minutes should be timely and accurate and sent them out as soon as possible after the meeting seeking comments and corrections. There's no point a month or two months after the meeting sending out minutes as people don't remember.
Time spent planning and managing the business of meetings for Chairs is time well spent. Making most of the time together as a board to discuss issues and swap ideas is critical.