Putting the Flavor Back in Your Board Meetings: A Free Recipe

September 20, 2013

Doing any cooking this weekend? We have a delicious board meeting recipe for you, and all it involves is the right ingredients and some heartfelt mixing.

In a bowl sized just right for your organization, gently stir…

  • The right team members, representing the values, talents, backgrounds and resources most important to your organization
  • One juicy consent agenda
  • A dash of procedure
  • Several good sprinkles of humor
  • Half a cup of memory powder to infuse your reason for being there: your mission*
  • A full cup of the brilliant elements of your individual board members and their highest level thinking

*Hint: Try bringing your meeting to order with the melodious sounds of a fine instrument if you’re the Sarasota Orchestra, for instance.

If you missed the fabulous session with Dr. Sandy Hughes at the Community Foundation of Sarasota County, “Energizing Your Board’s Potential with Better Board Meetings,” we want to provide a short recap of our very flavorful discussion.

We can’t hide the fact that we laughed a bit at first, reflecting on the plethora of negative quotes about meetings that live on the Internet, such as this lovely jewel from Dave Barry: If you had to identify, in one word, the reason why the human race has not achieved, and never will achieve, its full potential, that word would be “meetings.” 

So how do we shift this paradigm in nonprofit board meetings? 

The most strategic conversations we have at our organizations take place at the board level, and board work happens during meetings. Sandy will tell you that key policies and procedures must exist, but they are the basics; the human elements drive your potential.  Four of the focal points we discussed (among many) are as follows:

  1. Culture.
    Establishing a culture of accountability and excellence for the organization begins at the board meeting. Want to dwell on the “small things?” Form your agenda accordingly! Want to focus on the direction of your organization and strategic or generative discussions? Use a consent agenda.

  2. Careful selection and evaluation.
    At a minimum, does your board conduct a board self-evaluation every 2-3 years? Does your board thoughtfully select new board members based on written board selection criteria?

  3. Board chair as facilitator.
    The board chair role is not something awarded to a person based on tenure on the board, nor is it a role passed off to the unlucky gentleman because no one else will do it. It’s a big deal. The board chair works with the CEO to develop a meeting agenda including stimulating conversations about your big picture issues. He or she facilitates the meetings in a way which encourages everyone to contribute. And he or she establishes norms around respectful debate and stays committed to segments in each meeting covering organizational learning and good governance practices. These personal skills are critical to every successful meeting and for setting the right tone.

  4. The complexity and varied experiences of individuals.
    A hidden gem waits to be discovered as you fully get to know the individuals on your board team. We all have stories, preferences and experiences. How well do we know each other? By taking the time to do this as a board, we can operate more fully as a respectful and dynamic group.

    Consider opening your next meeting by asking, “What have you changed your mind about this month and what made you change it?”  Such a question can stimulate good conversations and help you really get to know the faces around your board table—a key to developing the kind of trust necessary to do exceptional group work.

Many thanks to Sandy Hughes, a voice of wisdom and experience in governance and all things nonprofit.

And special thanks to Joe McKenna, CEO of the Sarasota Orchestra, and Anne Folsom Smith, board chair of the Sarasota Orchestra, for their guest appearances at this session. The willingness to share how their exceptional working relationship has developed over time was a powerful testament to what can be accomplished together. How fortunate we were to have them join us in a surprise opening, complete with beautiful instruments to focus our attention.

Would you like Sandy’s handout or more information on the consent agenda? E-mail me at Susie@CFSarasota.org.

-Susie Bowie
Community Foundation of Sarasota County


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