All board meetings need to have some kind of formal order provided through a board agenda. Often, these agendas become a basic template used year in and year out without much thought or notice. To have a truly effective handle on your organization and board meetings as a whole, more thought and care should be taken when compiling your monthly meeting agenda. This section will look at meeting agendas and the use of board packets.
Board agendas should be set through discussion and consensus by the executive committee no less than a week prior to the official board meeting. There will be standing items to be included such as adoption of meeting minutes, treasurer’s report, committee reports, etc. but there will also be the need to have discussions on old and new business. Agendas are meant to provide a roadmap for the discussion of important items for the board.
Your board bylaws may indicate when a meeting agenda must be sent out. Regardless of the stipulation, you should send the agenda out no less than five days before the meeting. Looking back at the duties of a board member, all board members are obligated to read through the agenda and formulate questions/discussion items they want to bring up at the meeting.
Agendas lead the flow of conversation
Since the agenda is the roadmap for your meeting, it is important to prioritize the items needed to be discussed. The executive committee reviews notes from the last board meeting, the unfinished business and the potential new topics for discussion. They then prioritize the order in which the old and new business will be addressed. For example, a new business item may be the crisis communication for your organization during the COVID-19 pandemic. That should be the first item on your new business section, not the last.
It makes sense doesn’t it? We all know that board meetings can be long affairs (often longer than necessary) and our attention spans begin to run thin. If you keep the most important items to the end of the meeting, discussion will be less involved, nerves will be frayed and final decisions may be punted to the next board meeting.
Agendas need to be managed
While agendas are the roadmap for your board meeting, you need a driver. The designated facilitator (usually the board president) must be sure to manage the conversation and cut off discussion that is not directly related to the topic at hand. To help with this, it is best to have a designated person to handle each agenda item with their name clearly listed on the agenda. The board meeting is not the place to have a committee meeting and therefore when conversation begins to flow into that territory, it is the facilitator’s responsibility to bring things back under control.
A board packet is a different form of a board agenda. It is sent out prior to the meeting and includes committee reports, important documents and prescribed questions the organization needs to address. Board packets provide context for discussion prior to the meeting and allows all board members the ability to come to the meeting prepared and ready to address the issues at-hand.
Board packets also help to shorten the time you spend at the meeting. All committees should provide a written report. These reports summarize the committee’s meeting and, if necessary, pull out key questions and/or decisions needed from the board. The written report cuts out the need for the committee member to provide the verbal summary at the meeting saving you precious minutes in an already cumbersome agenda. By doing this, your board can now pay attention to the important items for discussion and focus your decision making.
The adoption of a board packet format will aid greatly in communications, discussion and overall board meeting time. Board meetings should last no longer than 1.5 hours. A properly running committee structure and the use of pre-written and distributed committee reports through a board packet format ensures that long reviews of committee meetings are avoided and discussion on important issues is made the focus and activity of the monthly meeting.
What is in a board packet?
Board Packets are template documents distributed in conjunction with the board meeting announcement and meeting agenda. They are compiled by the board secretary and/or nominated individual and consist of officer reports, financial statements, committee reports and supporting documentation.
Example of a board packet layout
- Meeting Agenda
- Executive Committee Report
- Chair Report
- Vice Chair Report
- Secretary Report
- Meeting Minutes Adoption
- Include the meeting minutes for review
- Treasurer Report
- Include the necessary financial statements & budget monitoring
- Financial Report Adoption
- At-Large Report
- Executive Director/Staff Report(s)
- Committee Reports
- Marketing & Outreach
- Old business
- Item A
- Item B
- New business
- Item A
- Item B
- Supporting documentation (appendices)
Committee/staff reports are small summaries of that month’s committee meeting. It should be a quick review with items for further discussion at the board meeting (if necessary). These reports would be due to the secretary at least a week prior to the board meeting so they can be included in the board packet.
Board Member Responsibilities
The board packet would be sent out to all board members prior to the board meeting. It is the responsibility of the board members to thoroughly read the board packet and come to the meeting prepared for discussion on the items and issues listed. If a board member has a question on a particular committee report, they should feel free to ask during the board meeting.