Board Meetings vs. Bored Meetings: Governance Issues and Helpful Tools
Steering an organization toward a sustainable future can be a struggle for many boards. An organization’s mission will not advance if members fail to adopt sound, ethical, and legal governance and financial management policies, as well as ensure adequate resources are made available.
Earlier this year, we addressed best practices for running an effective board during part one of our NPO Speaker Series event, “Board or Bored?” For part two of this series, we focused on common governance issues and the tools and the resources that can enhance a board’s effectiveness.
The firm hosted “Board or Bored? Part 2” on two dates—April 26th in Creve Coeur and May 4th in St. Charles. For both dates, Jen Vacha, Principal in the Tax Services group of Brown Smith Wallace, moderated a panel discussion that focused on how successful boards operate and included input from the board member, administrative and compliance perspectives. The panel included two representatives from Brown Smith Wallace—Ron Steinkamp, Partner in the Advisory Services group, and Harvey Wallace, Co-founder and Partner in the Transaction Advisory and Litigation Support group. In addition, Randy Schilling, President and CEO of BoardPaq, and Laura Heisohn-Sidorski, Manager of the Executive Office at Lutheran Hour Ministries rounded out the discussion.
The panelists provided insightful responses to a series of questions relating to effective board communication, tools and resources.
- How and when does the organization you serve communicate information? Meeting data (agendas, budgets and minutes) should be disseminated at least 3-7 days prior to meeting dates to allow a reasonable review period. Equally important to timing is the method in which information is communicated. Communication with members should be in a way in which they want to be communicated—not every member is tech-savvy, nor does every member want to lug around a binder.
- What information have you found to be the most beneficial? Boards need to preserve their historic data to keep current members informed and focused on the purpose of the organization. This “organizational memory” includes articles of incorporation, by-laws, past meeting minutes and mission/vision statements. Ensure historic information is easily accessible; a “board binder” or online portal are great options for sharing this data with new members as part of their on-boarding.
- What actions can be implemented to build board member engagement and cohesiveness? Retreats provide an opportunity for members from different locations to connect and build rapport. When onboarding a new member or persuading dissenters to change positions, a one-on-one lunch meeting can be particularly impactful.
- What tools have you found to be successful in this process? Cloud services and applications like BoardPaq help plan, run and manage paperless meetings. An online hub for materials is a great place to host a member directory, task and track assignments and provide a forum to communicate with members in between meetings using polls.
- How much time do you think is spent just preparing the documents needed for a meeting? Hours! Days! Preparing documentation for a meeting can be very time consuming and the time to make changes after documents are prepared can easily double the total time committed. Electronic options for meeting documents can help reduce total preparation time
- What have you found to be a detriment to having a successful board meeting and how have you seen it resolved? Time is key to a successful meeting. Stay on schedule and stick to the agenda at hand. Set a time limit for each agenda item in order to be respectful of the volunteers’ time. It is also vital to identify which topics should be handled at the board level versus a committee level. Sometimes it is necessary to table a topic or push it out to another committee for further work. It is vital to identify which topics should be handled at the board level versus a committee level.
- What are your thoughts on the timing, frequency and length of board and committee meetings? Shorter is better. Avoid meetings that exceed two hours; attendees will become “bored!” Optimal timing and frequency depends on the organization. Committees will typically meet more frequently than boards; the makeup of each group will drive the timing decision.
- How much detail do you consider appropriate at each level? Board versus committee appropriate topics will vary based upon the organization. Smaller organizations typically will handle more detailed topics at a board level, whereas larger organizations have the capacity to utilize standing or ad hoc committees to pursue special interests and detailed analysis topics.
Join us for our next NPO Speaker Series event on Wednesday, August 30th in Creve Coeur to hear two representatives from United Way of Greater St. Louis present on not-for-profit quality standards. More details for this event and a second St. Charles session coming soon!
For more information on not-for-profit organizations, please contact Janet Ramey at 636.754.0231 or firstname.lastname@example.org.