Once Again: How to Keep a Nonprofit Board Informed.
By: Eugene Fram
At high-performing nonprofit boards, members of the board will rarely be invited by the CEO to participate in operational decisions. Yet the board still needs to know that is going on in operations.
The name of the game is for the CEO to communicate the important information to board members and to keep them informed of significant developments. Still, there’s no need to clutter regular board meetings by reporting endless details about operations. <!–more–>
Probably the most effective way of keeping board members aware of what is going on within the organization is to have staff frequently make short presentations. However, I have seen this approach used in dozens or nonprofit board meetings without success. Two problems frequently occur. First the staff person is so enthusiastic about an opportunity to talk with the board that the presentation time continues well beyond the allotted time, and, second, board members raise “micromanagement” level questions, which further extends the presentation session. To solve these problems, the board chair needs to suggest to detail seeking directors that the questions are very operational and can be answered “offline.” Second, the chief executive must meet with the staff person well ahead of the meeting and make sure that the material to be presented is succinct and the staff person is well aware of the time constraint. A “dress rehearsal” might even be appropriate for some staff personnel
Another technique is to use a consent agenda. With a consent agenda, routine and previously agreed upon items are organized together in the pre-meeting agenda and then, hopefully, approved as a group. If one or more board members questions an item in the group, it is placed on the agenda for the next board meeting. This process eliminates the time consuming effort of having a separate discussion for each item.
A third way is for the chief executive to meet with board members informally about every quarter. Occasionally, these meetings are with two directors at one time. At these sessions, the chief executive can discuss the more “entrepreneurial or wild ideas” that might need testing and update them on operational decisions in greater detail. Some of the meetings can happen quite informally, before or after a committee meeting or after a monthly board meeting. Some can occur at appropriate social events. It is important to have the executive’s assistant keep track of the meetings and then to have authority to make new appointments to meet the quarterly schedule. Obviously, the CEO would need to meet wit the board chair more often, and if the board is a national one meeting less frequently, a scheduled phone call is appropriate. One veteran CEO I know meets frequently with two board members. One is a long serving member, and the other is a newly appointed board member.
Source: “Policy vs. Paper Clips” Third Edition (2011). Available on Amazon
My blog site: http://bit.ly/yfRZpz
Very informative. At the Boards I have led I would use monthly reports by board members and committee chairs to keep everyone aware of developments between meetings. These reports would also include up coming actions or expected results. Currently, one of the boards I am a member of requires committee reports be distributed one week ahead of our monthly meetings, followed by a short presentation during the actual meeting. nice to know we are not too far away from optimum.
I email a CEO report monthly to all Board members covering agency highlights, including Board committee reports. It has made my job and communications more effective.
Margaret: Thanks for sharing. Excellent procedure.
I have used and endorse each of the suggestions made. A presentation from one of my managers was rare but they attended all board meetings and were available for substantive questions from their operational area reports.
Dan: I agree that all senior managers should be available at board meetings, Thanks for commenting.
I have used the methods that you outline. In regards to the consent agenda, if a board member had questions, it was pulled from the consent agenda and discussed after the rest of the consent agenda was approve. As Dan mentioned, I had senior staff attend board meetings to be available for information purposes and occasionally make presentations. I also included a CEO report in the board packet similar to what Margaret discussed.
I also have used the suggestions you made. With the consent agenda, if a board member wanted to discuss an item it was pulled from the consent agenda and discussed after the consent agenda was approved. As in Dan’s case, I also had senior staff present at board meetings for information purposes and to occasionally make presentation. And like Margaret, I included a CEO report in each board meeting that summarized issues and committee minutes were included as a separate item. I’m also looking forward to reading your book.
I agree with the importance of informal contact between the CEO and board members outside of the board meetings. These contacts get crowded out too often by busy schedules, but can make meetings so much more effective. Thanks for the reminder.