Getting Meetings Started Off Right

Lack of board engagement is a frequent complaint I hear from executive directors. They feel like they never hear from their boards and when they do, it is negative. There are lots of reasons for this. Sometimes the board isn’t asked to do anything interesting or thought-provoking so they lose interest in the work. Other times they aren’t sure what their role as a board is, or what their role as an individual board member is. To help have better board meetings, I’ve suggested two books: Boards on Fire and The Art of Gathering.

In this article, I want to specifically address how to start a meeting so that everyone will stay engaged. A great beginning will make for a great meeting. I highly recommend taking the extra time to engage your board members at the start with one of these questions.

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Conducting a Great ED Interview

Interviewing someone for an executive director position is not as easy as hiring for any other position in a nonprofit (or business for that matter). Making a good hire is critically important to the organization. It’s frustrating when I see board members rush through the process or assume it is easy to do.

I’ve shared a number of resources previously including How to Make a Good Hire, the Advantages of Using an Executive Search Firm, and the Value of Using an Interim Executive Director.

Here I provide some sample questions you can use in initial screening interviews and second-round interviews.

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Departure-Defined Succession Planning

A wide range of terms are used in succession planning and the type of plan you create varies depending on your current stage in the process. I covered the basic types of planning necessary for all organizations in my article on succession planning. In this article, I will provide an overview for those organizations that have a long-time executive director who is planning far in advance for a transition.

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Organizing Your Board with a Calendar

Image by Andreas Lischka from Pixabay

It’s easy to get to the end of a year on your nonprofit board and realize that you haven’t taken care of essential tasks for your organization. An easy way to keep tabs on all of the tasks of a board of directors is to create a board calendar that you refer to as you develop each board meeting agenda. This will systematize your work and make it much simpler to check off the tasks.

Here is a starting list for your board calendar of tasks and events to include. The document itself should be reviewed and updated annually.

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Writing a Board Succession Policy

As organizations begin to plan for succession for the executive director and other key staff, they often realize that the board needs a succession plan as well.

I remember all too well the board meeting when our chair breezed late and announced this was her last board meeting. She’d changed positions at her company and could no longer serve. None of us expected this news. She’d been a fantastic board chair for the past couple of years. She was involved, brought great ideas, and cared about the mission. Everyone else looked around at each other, with no one willing to step up. Our vice-chair had stated from the beginning that he was unable to put in the time to be the chair. We had no one ready to step up.

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What Interim Executive Directors Do [video]

What Interim Executive Directors Do – recorded August 12, 2020

Interim executive directors play an important role in a nonprofit leadership transition. But what do they actually do? Why are they valuable? How can you become one?

Watch here.

Recruiting Board Members [Video]

Board Recruitment Webinar – recorded May 20, 2020

In this video, I cover many ways you can recruit and retain great board members. There’s a ton of ideas on where to look for members that you might not have considered, but it is just important to make sure your recruits have a great experience. We talk about nominations, interviews, onboarding, and more.

Watch here.

Is Board Service Right For You?

Joining a nonprofit board is often represented as the ultimate way to serve an organization, but it isn’t always the best option for everyone. Here are some considerations:

Do you prefer working in teams or alone?
All good boards function as strong teams of people who get things done together. This involves plenty of meetings and robust discussion. Do you enjoy meetings or are you sick and tired of them? I have a friend who has no interest in going to any more meetings in his life. He just wants to get work done. He is a fantastic volunteer on work days at a nonprofit with me, and always willing to share insightful comments while we work. Everyone benefits in this situation.

Is your skill set something that lends itself to working alone?
Would you prefer to help organizations out by focusing on upgrading their technology, for example? You might want to volunteer to work with staff in that specific area, not by attending meetings to discuss the strategic direction of the organization.

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Developing Great Board Chairs

The chair of a nonprofit board has significant power to shape the organization, but all too often, that chair is not prepared to lead. More often than we’d like to admit, the previous board chair needed to step down unexpectedly and someone without training reluctantly takes the position. In a recent study, over half the respondents reported they did nothing to prepare for their role as a board chair. The new board chair is frustrated, because they aren’t sure what to do. The executive director is frustrated, because they have an ineffective board chair. The rest of the board members start pulling back and don’t want to attend meetings. None of this helps the organization grow.

It’s unfortunate, since a great board chair has a real opportunity to make a positive difference for the organization. They can inspire their fellow board members to do their best and support the executive director tremendously. Board chairs need to have a wide range of skills, especially in working with others. They also need to have the time to focus on the board and the organization. The process to choose the next board chair should be deliberate, but it is too often made in a time of panic as the previous chair leaves.

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Successful Transitions – a program that works

The possibility of a long-term trusted and high performing executive director leaving their position is a scary prospect for most boards. It can be made more manageable by intentional planning and open discussions. In addition, taking the time to explore succession planning and leadership development now will benefit the organization immediately through reduced workloads, better-trained staff, and the opportunity for future growth.

Through a new program called Successful Transitions, Lincoln organizations developed their plans and prepared for the future. The first Successful Transitions cohort consisted of six nonprofit organizations. One has an executive director who had a firm retirement date less than a year away. Two others have founding executive directors considering retirement someday in the future, but knew they needed to put plans in place for a smooth transition. The other three have no departure plans but understood that succession planning would benefit the entire organization now and in the future. There was also a wide range of organization size (staff sizes between 1 and 75) and executive director tenure (2 to 40+ years).

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