Wednesday, December 28, 2011

What's on Your Board's First Meeting Agenda for 2014?

JANUARY IS JUST AROUND THE CORNER (yikes!) and many if not most nonprofits will be holding their first board meeting of the new year sometime in the next four weeks.  While we might be inclined to fall back on comfortable agenda formats and conversations for this meeting, if you're embracing 2014 as a year of intentional organizational development (see my post about that here), then I know you're giving serious thought to rethinking what and how business will be discussed.

For those of you from organizations that tend to tick methodically through task lists at board meetings before calling it a day, structuring the first board meeting of the new year around an evaluation of past successes and failures coupled with discussion about future directions is in order as one way to move from microscopic dissection to big picture strategy.  For this type of conversation to be successful, it needs to be structured.  One way to do that is with a handful of big questions and some supporting information.  If you want to talk about why admissions, ticket sales, or event attendance was up or down, provide some contextual data that can help trustees understand trends and evaluate possible organizational responses.

Example:  instead of focusing solely on money raised or lost, what if the big question was about the demographics of who supported and how the demographic could be expanded or shifted for the future?

If you've got a written, goal-based and mission-driven plan (and hopefully you do), that's your starting point for both assessment of the past year and future work.  Make review of the plan a chunk of the agenda and make sure that all other agenda items connect to the plan.  What a great way to get the new year off and running!

And speaking of mission, doesn't it make sense for the first board meeting of the new year to focus on that?  One board I'm now serving on plans to devote half of its first board meeting of the new year to just that discussion.  We're arming ourselves with some context-setting 'homework' that will not only help frame the conversation, but fuel it.

Bringing new board members on for their first meeting in January?  For my money, there's probably no better opening conversation than a round robin discussion about why each of you cares about the organization and wants to be a part of it. Even the newbies should be able to articulate why they agreed to join the board.  It's not only a good icebreaker, it's also a team-builder.

Perhaps you'll want to mix up the first meeting with a brief tour of a physical space, collection or department in need of attention -- attention that will find its way to future board meeting agendas.  Or perhaps there's a hands-on activity that will help to enlighten board members to the important work done every day.  At the upcoming retreat of a staff and stakeholders of a school archive, we're going to spend some time looking at primary source documents and talking about why they're important.

I hope you'll be encouraged to begin 2014 with a reinvigorated board meeting road map that balances board attention between the present and the future; between the 30,000-foot overview and knotty, on-the-ground issues; between the known and the unknown.  And I hope you'll share what's on your first of 2014 agenda with the readers here at Leading by Design.

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