Decades ago, when I started in the nonprofit sector, my first boss took a sledge hammer and beat the following into my brain:
If nothing changes as a result of your meeting; that meeting was a waste of time!
I’m not here to suggest you use written timed agendas (you should) or that your meetings start and end on time (they should). Instead, I want to tell you a story about how we turned around a board that had meetings so boring that attendance took a nose dive into one that was energized, effective, and fun to attend.
After suffering through a number of boring meetings, I was discussing the board’s lack of effectiveness with my mentor. In a free wheeling conversation, I still remember from two decades ago, he convinced me to approach my board president and suggest the following:
- Reports of past activity would be submitted in writing. Working with my board president, we asked officers and committee chairs to submit their reports of the prior month’s activities in writing, preferably in advance. Those reports would be placed in the meeting folders at the board members seats when they arrived in the meeting room.
- Verbal Reports would focus on the future. Committee chairs were asked to focus their verbal reports on discussing future plans, especially emphasizing any obstacles, problems, or “doors” they needed opened in the community.
- Board Members were encouraged to bring guests. This nonprofit’s board meetings were open to the public and we wanted to attract visitors who might volunteer with us.
Within two meetings a sea change took place. Before we had been a servant to Roberts Rules as each officer and chair felt obligated to deliver a verbal report centering on what had already happened. But now, they still delivered those reports focusing primarily on what they were doing and what help they needed between then and the next meeting. With the death of boring monologues of reports read by officers and chairs, dialogue flourished. Questions were asked, answers offered, brains were stormed.
The meetings became much more livelier. As they changed, guests started getting more involved. By our third meeting, we filled an important chairmanship when a guest volunteered.
For me, these meetings became fun to plan as opposed to a burden to suffer through. I started to look forward to them whereas before I had come close to dreading them.
Over time attendance increased and the overall morale of the board increased as well.
If your meetings are focused on the past, convince your volunteers to change to the “future tense.”