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October 25, 2020
Tools for More Effective Nonprofit Board Meetings
By Richard Lent

Richard Lent
Richard Lent
If your nonprofit board meetings seem unproductive, or discussions get stuck in details, or a few members and officers take responsibility while others sit back, you should know that easy-to-implement tools to help create more effective meetings are readily available.

While each board has its own challenges, structural tools that don’t require trained facilitators help the group stay on track while fostering greater commitment by all members to meeting results. Here are three:

Four Responsibilities
There are various roles to be fulfilled in any well-run meeting: discussion leader, timekeeper, recorder and minute taker. Often, the board president covers many of these roles to some degree, but it’s a juggling act. It’s best to volunteers to take on each of these roles for a given discussion or even the whole meeting, with the discussion leader making sure all get to speak in the time available.

The timekeeper reminds the group when there are a few minutes left of the planned time for discussion and asks whether they wish to stop or to revise the agenda.

Most boards have a secretary responsible for taking minutes. This is critical, but this does not address the need to have another volunteer serve as a recorder, someone who tracks the process of discussion in real time where all can see it. (See the description of the related tool, “Visible Note Taking.”)

Many nonprofit board meetings are difficult to run simply because of their size. When a group has more than eight people, it is difficult to hold a sustained conversation where everyone gets to contribute.

1-2-All is a simple process that gives everyone a chance to share his/her thoughts while maintaining an efficient use of meeting time.
  • “1” means asking everyone to take a moment for personal notes and reflection.
  • “2”, involves asking everyone to turn to someone else around the table to compare thoughts.
  • Finally, you resume as a whole group, i.e., “All”, to share a summary of key points from the small group discussions.
This process has a number of advantages. It helps balance those who “think as they speak” with those who need to organize their thoughts before speaking. It also makes sure that everyone is engaged and talking to others. Finally, each person gets some feedback in a one-one exchange before going “on record” to the whole group.

You can use this tool whenever an important new question or proposal has been introduced. It takes no more time than the usual whole group discussion.

Visible Note Taking
In many discussions, participants lose track of what has been said and how the group’s comments are (hopefully) building toward conclusions. Most board meetings have someone taking “minutes.”

While these provide an important record, they aren’t designed to support the real-time progress of discussion. Instead, ask someone to maintain an ongoing record of comments, where all can see these, presumably on a flip chart. The recorder should use each speaker’s words as much as possible, but just catching a phrase here and there is often enough to remind all of the progress of the discussion.

Can These Tools Make a Difference in Board Meetings?
One board president, after adopting just a few tools, said, “Your suggestions, were very helpful and proved to be most effective with the board members. The attendees felt included throughout the meeting and left energized. I kind of marvel at how well the discussion went and so easily. The approach was really a “no-brainer,’ yet we’d never done anything like it before.”

People join a nonprofit board because they have a passionate interest in the organization’s mission. Everyone involved—board members and officers—owe it to the organization, and themselves, to give it their best. Meetings should be a way to keep the organization moving forward. Hopefully, these simple tools will help.

Richard Lent, Ph.D., partner in Meeting for Results, helps leaders improve the effectiveness of their meetings. Call Rick at 978 580 4262 or email him at
May 2014
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