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Time Management for Nonprofit Boards
Karen Eber Davis

December, 2013

No matter how you calculate it, board meetings are expensive. Staff spends substantial time preparing for, attending, and following up on them. Between preparations, driving, attending, and returning to homes or offices, each board member devotes at least three hours to every meeting.

How can you make your meetings worthy of these investments? Make gold by planning for them. Think of them as mini special events. Adopt the following procedure:

1. Timeframe. Plan meetings for ninety minutes or less. This keeps energy high. It inspires focus.

 2. Prioritize. At most, request three quality decisions per meeting. Which three decisions are the most important this month? For help organizing priorities, adopt this exercise.

3. Organize. To achieve your objectives, organize agenda items in a logical sequence. For instance, discuss plans to receive planned gifts before discussing a workshop on wills.

4. Note. Indicate time estimates on the agenda. Announcing estimates indicates priorities and promotes peer sanctioning of the verbose.

 5. Balance. Evaluate the logic of your time investments. All things being equal, keep discussions brief about a special event that will net $5,000, and save your time for discussions about a $50,000 corporate gift.

 6. Details. Establish tactics for each agenda item. How will you quickly frame it? What questions will you ask? Predict what questions the board may ask. Plan answers.

 7. Add This. Include at least one opportunity for board members to hold one-on-one conversations with others. Adding a group exercise may seem like a surefire way to torpedo your timeframe. However, directed five-minute conversations build relationships, are enjoyable, and precede insightful group discussions. Everyone starts them knowing the opinion of at least one other person on a topic.

8. Check. Study your draft agenda from a macro viewpoint. Are the issues and questions raised strategic or management oriented? Unless you seek management help, adjust your questions to reflect strategy.

 9. Leftovers. Besides the top three priorities, the board will still need education about other items. First, reduce these to the essentials. Adding more will make staff feel safer, but this safety comes at the cost of burdening the board. How will you distribute remaining items? Weekly emails? Surveys? Consent agendas? What will you send in advance besides the agenda? What will you bring to the meeting?

 10. Share. My son just completed a course before studying abroad. He expected to read a book and be told what to pack. Instead, his professor sent a syllabus that laid out a standard seventy-hour course. My son reset his expectations. Your board members will appreciate similar guidance as you refine your meetings to create more gold. Share the changes and why you’re making them.

As a nonprofit leader, you can help your board to maximize the benefit they make for your nonprofit. Plan your meetings and create gold.

Other resources about time management:

Ten Time Management Tips for Elephant Sized Projects 
Ready or Not? Time Management Tool
Time Management Tips for Your Holidays
Time Management for Nonprofit Organizations



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