May 9, 2018
Karen Peacey

10 tips for better board agendas and board minutes

This is a rebroadcast of our popular August 2017 post with some new tips for board agendas.

Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result – well that’s futile.  But board meeting bad habits are sticky.

When Aprio asks governance experts what board administrators can do to quickly improve meeting outcomes, we hear one answer consistently: improve meeting agendas and minutes. Here are 10 best practices that are easy to adopt, and instant boosts to board productivity.

Better board agendas – 5 ways to prompt better board engagement

Deedee Myers recently shared on a webinar with us that a common complaint among directors is that board meetings are boring. Directors join the board because they are passionate about an organization’s vision and want to help solve the challenges faced. So how can board meetings better engage that enthusiasm and initiative?

  1. List the organization’s vision and strategic objectives on every agenda – Keep the strategy right in front of directors to encourage questions and input aligned to your vision and reinforce to directors that board meetings are directly tied to achieving the goals.
  2. Strength building topics – What’s keeping the CEO up at night? No director joins a board because they love listening to reports. Directors want to lend expertise to solving organizational challenges or building opportunities. Ensure every agenda mixes three elements:
  3. Big picture CEO report on organization highlights/challenges
    • Benchmark data which measures performance to date versus plan
    • Strength building discussion where you put specific questions to the board for strategic input.
    • The CEO can offer: here is our challenge and the options I see to resolve it, am I missing anything?
  4. Appreciation and accountability  – The non-profit governance advisor Joan Garry advises board chairs to send a short email of thanks to every director the morning after every board meeting. Smart. As important, enforce director accountability. At the bottom of the agenda note the commitments to action made by directors and the status of completion.
  5. Impact story – Open at least a couple board meetings a year with an interesting story on how your organization is fulfilling its mandate. The point is to draw busy directors into your world, your purpose, give them a sense of connection to your impact.
  6. Hot topic orientation – Directors are not staff; they live largely outside your world and perhaps outside your industry. Often there is critical intelligence that directors require to contribute productively. It can be knowledge of your ideal customer, your largest profit risks, your shifting competitive market and so on. Identify two of these topics a year for board learning sessions. Ideally, record them on video to assist with director onboarding.

Better board minutes – 5 sure ways to improve the board efficiency

What makes minutes good? We hear from directors and governance advisors like Sylvia Groves of the Governance Studio that good minutes are short, easy to scan and refer back to. Here are 5 simple minute-taking tips to get you there:

  1. Get the vitals down, and only the vitals – Note the date of meeting, who was there, what topics were discussed and what was decided. After the meeting ends, accept no additions or edits after-the-fact.
  2. Avoid acronyms and jargon – All directors may not be familiar with your industry terms, legalese and insider speak – write out all terms and opt for plain language.
  3. Keep it short and succinct – For example, we appointed this person, to this role title, for this term, on this date. Skip the lengthy description on the role.
  4. Highlight resolutions – Format your minutes so resolutions stand out – bold them or put a box around them – and consider doing a summary at the end of minutes for efficient recall later.
  5. Use a consistent format – Even if your secretary is absent, have the stand-in follow the same effective template for familiar minutes every meeting.

Want to learn more – here are some great resources from Sylvia Groves of the Governance Studio.

AAA+ Minutes videos
Accessible minutes
Accurate minutes

Minutes Handbook
AAA+ Minutes – The three must-do fundamentals and 100s of practice tips

Curious? Find out more.

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