New nonprofits often start with board members who have no training or experience with running an effective board meeting. And most new boards don't even realize they are shaping the culture of the organization with that first year of meetings.
Will the nonprofit be professional? Will it be a fly by the seat of our pants org? Will we respect our peers or will we roll our eyes when other directors are speaking and create interpersonal dramas? How will the nonprofit deal with conflict, will we be direct or will we have secret factions and alliances advancing agendas.
Most new nonprofit boards are so busy just trying to get things going they don't give much attention to the culture they're creating.
So here are three pro tips to both have a better meeting and keep the culture healthy:
1. Start the meeting with a “mission moment”
Every nonprofit board is collected together to serve a common purpose. At the top of the meeting have one person share a story that shows the mission of the organization coming to life. Read the mission statement and have someone share something specific. Maybe there's a new donor that decided to give generously this month, or maybe the story of the most recent rescue dog that was placed in it's forever home. You get the idea. Starting the meeting with a ‘mission moment' reminds every board member of the shared purpose and helps keep mission front of mind as discussions continue.
2. Ask for board members to disclose any known conflicts of interest at the top of the agenda
Board members have a duty to disclose conflicts of interest, and requesting that any known conflicts get said out loud at the top of the meeting serves several purposes. First it sets a professional tone – we are professionals with fiduciary duties and we're acknowledging that responsibility right up front. Second, it ensures that if there is a conflict of interest we know it's coming and can plan ahead for the board member to step out of the room for discussions if needed. Third, it creates a climate of open discussion and direct communication that may pave the way for other uncomfortable discussions that people might naturally try to avoid.
3. Embrace board training
Don't assume that a new board should just ‘muddle through' and figure out how to be effective on the fly. Likewise, don't assume that just because people on the board have served on other boards that they know what they are doing – they may have never received training, picked up bad habits or come from dysfunctional organizations that ran themselves poorly. Group board training (and refresher training) sets the tone and gets everybody on the same page.
There are tons of places to get good board training! You can start with your state's Council of Nonprofits, find your local chapter here.
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