A 2021 index of nonprofit board practices titled Leading with Intent  published by BoardSource, a leader in nonprofit board leadership research and support, reveals that there is some disconnect between what an executive would describe as a nonprofit’s highest priorities and the amount of time boards devote to those areas. For instance, one of the areas rated lower in priority, but in reality warranted more attention was building community relationships (separate from fundraising) that support the organization’s work.
So how can leadership improve, making the most of the talent, insight, and perspective that each member brings to the table within the time available? Here are a few best practices for your board meetings:
1. Make an agenda. It always pays to plan ahead, so write down agenda items and have the completed document printed and ready for each of your board members. Not only is this professional, but it’s also a helpful way to make sure what needs to be discussed is actually covered in your time together. In your agenda, include things like the date, start time, and time markers for each discussion item, such as in the following example:
10/4/22 Board Meeting, 9-10 a.m.
9:00 a.m. Welcome and Announcements
9:05 a.m. Upcoming Event Discussion
9:25 a.m. Member Roles for Event (Preparation and Day of)
9:40 a.m. Questions about Event and/or Corresponding Responsibilities
9:45 a.m. General Questions
9:50 a.m. Closing Thoughts
(For a more in-depth sample agenda, visit this page for a pdf download.)
2. Set expectations and clarify responsibilities. Does each of your board members serve a specific role? What are your expectations of each member specific to that role and as a part of your organization as a whole? Is the right person filling that position? It’s wise to have these easily accessible so your board members have a clear explanation of responsibilities and you can assess how those expectations are being met over time.
3. Create action items. Once you’ve discussed agenda items, be specific when it comes to follow-up so each person knows exactly which next steps to take. Include who will be involved and when they should report back. Clearly communicating with your people is essential for allowing them to gain ground in fulfilling your vision while also respecting their time—whether you’re working on an event, initiating policy change, spearheading a community effort, or conducting general business.
4. Set the tone for the board’s culture. Group dynamics from diverse thinkers is essential to creative thinking and problem-solving, but it also has the potential to cause conflict. Reinforce that every member is essential and valued. Positive, focused leadership will help the board perform effectively.
5. Know your why. Regularly remind your board members why your organization exists and the reason that matters. In fact, consider starting (or even closing) each meeting by reading your nonprofit’s mission statement. When all eyes are on the mission, it creates an atmosphere of camaraderie and facilitates working together toward a shared goal. It also naturally keeps your people motivated because it focuses less on what you’re doing and more on why you’re doing it.
At the end of the day, it’s important to share with your board members how much you value them and what they bring to your organization. They are a key part of its success, after all. Your enthusiasm and gratitude will lead the way.
“The role of a leader is not to come up with all the great ideas. The role of a leader is to create an environment in which great ideas can happen.” –Simon Sinek
 Leading with Intent: BoardSource Index of Nonprofit Board Practices, June 2021