To most board members, agenda building is about as exciting as watching paint dry. Until they sit through a poorly run board meeting or two, that is. Nothing encourages appreciation of a thoughtfully prepared agenda like bad experiences in the boardroom. 

In my work with boards of faith-based nonprofits, I describe great meetings — ones that educate, encourage, and empower board members — as foundational to good governance. I remind CEOs and board chairs that agenda planning is one of their most important shared responsibilities. Now, as a board chair myself, I’m challenged to practice what I teach. 

I’ve developed the following seven step agenda building process for the board with which I serve. The list is a work in progress, revised per board members’ evaluative comments following our meetings. 

Step 1. To get the ball rolling, the CEO and I each list topics we’d like to see on the agenda. Negotiation ensues. 

Step 2. Once the CEO and I agree about what to include, I take a run at ordering the agenda items, starting with those of greatest importance from the board’s perspective. 

Step 3. I estimate the amount of time we’ll need for each item. I consider how information will be presented, the amount of discussion the item will generate, and whether a vote is required.

Step 4. I include time for breaks, meals, and board/staff interaction.

Step 5. With the pieces fairly well in place, I run the agenda by the other members of the executive committee and the committee chairs, making further adjustments per their suggestions. 

Step 6. Now that everyone has had a say, I test the agenda against the following questions: 

  • Are connections between this meeting and our last time together easily discernible?

  • Are worship and prayer prominent in the agenda, or do they look like an add-on? 

  • Are more than half of agenda topics future oriented? 

  • Will the flow of the meeting encourage as much interaction among board members as between the board and CEO? 

  • Do several board and staff members have “speaking parts” or will one or two voices dominate? 

  • Do committee agendas complement and/or build on the full-board discussions? 

  • Is the time allotted for board-only work, including an executive session, sufficient for the issues needing to be addressed? 

  • Will board members go home knowing more about the ministry and its programs than when they arrived? 

Step 7. When the tweaking is complete, I hand the agenda off to the CEO who, in turn, directs staff in gathering background materials and assembling the board books. 

At the end of the day, it doesn’t much matter if every member of the board understands or appreciates the intricacies of agenda building. The proof is in the meeting. Good organizations have good meetings, and good meetings eventually result in good governance. 

That’s why careful agenda building matters—seven steps or otherwise. 

Reprinted with permission from Rebekah Burch Basinger’s fundraising blog, “Generous Matters,” which is online at generousmatters.com.

 


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