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January 20, 2022
Nonprofit Success Is Often Tied to the Way Meetings Are Led
By Richard Lent

Richard Lent
Richard Lent
The way nonprofits run their meetings says a lot about their culture, and not only shapes the outcomes of those meeting, but also ultimate organizational success.

Some organizations pack their days with long meetings or have unspoken practices around late arrivals or early departures. Culture also influences discussions, decision-making, presentations, and even meeting location.

An effective meeting culture can improve organizational performance by enabling you to utilize the experience of your group to make better decisions more efficiently and implement those decisions more reliably. It can also mean shorter meetings. Fortunately, you can develop the meeting culture you want.

Here are some specific practices you can adopt to improve your own meetings. In time, these practices can be picked up by others based on your example.
  • Communicate the work of the meeting clearly. — Change how you communicate the focus of discussions through a clear statement of the task of each agenda item. For example, rather than listing “communication planning” as an agenda item, spell out what you intend to do, e.g., “agree on a plan for updating the website.” A clear description helps everyone to come prepared and keeps the discussion on track.

  • Improve the value of meeting time. — Remove “updates” from meeting agendas to focus the time on work to be done by the group. If updates are for information sharing, they can be communicated before the meeting.

  • Clarify decision making. — Be explicit about how you want to involve your team in reaching decisions: by consensus, by simple consent, by voting or by providing input to the person responsible for the final choice. Each has its advantages and disadvantages and may be more/less appropriate for a given task.

  • Create more balanced discussions. — After some key decision is introduced, ask participants to reflect for a moment and then turn to someone beside them and exchange views. Finally, resume the whole group discussion by going around the table to hear a summary from each pair. This process gives all a chance to think before speaking and to share their thoughts with at least one other person. It also means everyone gets to participate in a defined period of time.

  • Change how you sit to change group dynamics. — If you always use the same meeting space, shift how people sit by changing your own seat and encouraging others to do the same. This will give you and others a new perspective and someone different to share with around the table.
These changes are easy to implement. You do not have to explain them first. Afterwards, you can mention what you changed and why. Over time, some changes may be adopted by others and create a new meeting culture.

Consider the following: A woman who had assumed a leadership position in a nonprofit organization loved the organization but hated the way it ran board meetings. They were long and often failed to reach clear conclusions. Her colleagues seemed to accept this as just the way things were.

After she implemented a few of the structural changes mentioned above, she reported:

"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."

Ready to improve your meeting culture faster? Ask your team to complete the Meeting Culture Survey and then discuss the results as a group. Use the findings to choose specific structural improvements. You can download a copy of the Meeting Culture Survey.

Richard Lent, Ph.D., a partner in Meeting for Results, specializes in helping leaders conduct more effective meetings. He is the author of Leading Great Meetings: How to Structure Yours for Success. Email to or call him at 978 580 4262.
June 2016
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