How to Create an Effective Foundation Board Meeting

By Lori J. Counts, CFRE, principal consultant, Accordant Philanthropy.

Many leaders join the health care foundation board to contribute to the greater good and to make a difference in the community. They come inspired by the ability to connect with the mission in a deep and personal way. But, usually by the third board meeting, they ask themselves, “Is every meeting going to be filled with these long, tedious reports? Where is the opportunity for discussion? Why did I ever say ‘yes’ to such a longterm commitment?”

As a board leader, you can help position your organization to recapture that original enthusiasm and to strengthen the personal connection with members. It starts by taking a hard look at the content and structure of meetings. Is the agenda exclusively set by staff or does the board “own” the agenda? Building better board engagement by structuring the board meeting in a way that connects to the mission and elicits feedback will go a long way to improving the board experience.

Consider the following:

Frame your ambition. Before the next board meeting, ask yourself some simple questions:

• What do we need from fellow board members to move forward?

• What information do we need to hear from the health care system?

• What do we want to achieve to drive philanthropy forward?

Hardwire efficiency. Analyze past agendas and determine what types of items can be moved to a consent agenda. With a consent agenda, routine items can be voted on quickly in order to preserve board time for meaningful discussion. Mail minutes, financial and committee reports in advance; then, consider their approval in one vote on the agenda. Any member can ask that a consent agenda item be moved back into the regular agenda for discussion prior to a vote if needed.

Connect to mission. It’s critical to never forget the ultimate purpose of board work, so mission must always be front and center. Transformative stories can keep leaders connected and inspired as effective advocates for philanthropy in the community. Just as donors need real stories to be moved to make a gift, board members must be personally moved to enlist support from others.

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