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Nonprofit Board Operations: Agendas

Meetings, meetings, meetings. A necessary part of any nonprofit organization, they are where ideas and issues are discussed, new initiatives are introduced, and action items are assigned. While they may seem cumbersome at times, a good meeting keeps your organization focused and goal-oriented. But how do you maintain the productivity of meetings – especially recurring ones like board and committee – and keep members engaged and motivated? As a board or committee chair, you need to consider what you hope to achieve in the meeting, and then utilize the magic of a well-planned agenda.

An agenda clearly identifies the topics and timetables for discussion, communicating to attendees that the meeting will be orderly, accurate, and productive. A thoughtfully structured agenda is a key element to helping nonprofit boards and committees function as an effective team. When drafting a meeting agenda, there are certain steps you can take to optimize success for every meeting.

Lead by Agenda

While roundtable discussions are effective in certain situations, truly efficient board and committee meetings require a person to steer the ship, typically the chair of the board or committee. Meeting agendas allow leaders to organize their thoughts, map out and maintain command of the discussion, and provide crucial information to the board. They act as a meeting roadmap with decision-making as the destination.

A Big Step is Prep

Drafting an agenda early offers leaders the opportunity to structure and guide the meeting. Further, sending out board and committee meeting agendas, together with all accompanying documents, about a week in advance lets members know what to expect in the meeting and allows them time to prepare as necessary.  A pre-circulated agenda can also keep the meeting moving along, as attendees are less likely to slow the session down with interruptions, knowing that their issue will be covered. To the extent off-agenda topics arise, they can be set aside for discussion at a later date.

Time-Management is Everything

It can be helpful to estimate the amount of time needed for each item on the agenda and include these timeframes on the agenda. This exercise ensures that the meeting contains enough matters of substance for robust discussion, but not so many topics that the board or committee will be unable to address them during the allotted time. It is critical to stick to the agenda and start and end meetings on time to show that you honor the valuable time commitment your volunteer directors and committee members are making. 

Documentation is Essential

Minutes are a crucial part of official non-profit meetings, acting as  legal documents that provide evidence of decision-making aligned with the organization’s goals and bylaws. A well-outlined agenda works hand-in-hand with the minutes and can help ensure that all discussions are documented, reports are reviewed, and decisions are voted upon. Working from an agenda ensures the minutes match the flow of the meeting for easy reference, whether by stakeholders, state regulators, or just the next person leading the meeting.

Agendas for Accountability

A meeting agenda also serves as a means for assigning tasks and keeping team members accountable for their responsibilities. The agenda should identify who will present each item and seek to include as many voices as possible. Hearing from a variety of voices at each board meeting not only makes for more engaging meetings, but the opportunity to lead a section of the meeting can deepen a director’s sense of commitment and ownership.

The Law Firm for Non-Profits knows that you are passionate about your cause and company, which makes us passionate about helping you. We’ll work on the details while you continue to make our world a better place. Contact us to learn more or to schedule a consultation.

NOTE: The information contained herein is not intended to be legal advice and the reader should know that no Attorney-Client relationship or privilege is formed by the posting or reading of this article which is also not intended to solicit business.

Casey Summar, Partner, The Law Firm for Non-Profits, 4705 Laurel Canyon Blvd, #306, Studio City, CA 91607

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