Agendas. Minutes. Reports. Last-minute changes. Approvals. The to-do list for board administrators and staffers seems never-ending, especially when it comes time to organize the next board meeting. Ensuring board directors receive all materials in plenty of time is arguably the top priority, but complications do happen.
To prepare for a board meeting, can you collect and organize all board materials in time? Can you meet the deadline of sending all board documents to directors a week in advance of the meeting? What last-minute changes or additions do you need to plan for? Is your board meeting in-person or virtual, or do you need to plan for both types of board-meeting attendees?
For Board Meeting Preparation, the Earlier the Better
According to OnBoard’s Definitive Guide for Better Board Meetings, efficient board planning begins at the end of the previous board meeting.
During the board meeting, the corporate secretary and others jot down notes about items to include on the next agenda and other follow-up actions. Once the meeting ends, the corporate secretary debriefs with their team, promptly schedules to-do items, and begins the “first draft” for the next meeting agenda.
But that’s only the beginning of the process. Then comes requesting, compiling, and preparing final documents for board review. If the board wants all documents emailed to them, do you send one big PDF, or individual emails as documents become available? If certain board members request printed documents, do you send them by regular mail or need to schedule a quicker delivery service?
Is your meeting agenda complete, accurate, and approved by the board chair? Can the board discuss the next meeting’s agenda items thoroughly with the board materials provided, and did you include a reference section to provide better context? Did you review everything for consistency prior to distribution?
The bottom line? The more work you do in advance means the more productive and efficient your board will be.
According to this checklist compiled by Harvard Business Review, some other tips for minimizing the time needed to prepare for a board meeting include:
- Making sure you really need a meeting.
- Selecting the right participants and assigning roles.
- Sending preliminary agendas to key participants and stakeholders.
- Sending pre-reading or requests which require advance preparation.
- Choosing the decision-making process to be used.
- Finalizing the agenda and distributing it to all participants.
- Verifying all key participants will attend and know their roles.
Sending Meeting Materials Sooner Means Better Board Engagement
Every board serves a purpose, whether it’s to guide a nonprofit, steer a higher education organization, or oversee a large corporation. The directors who govern your boards are also very busy people, who need access to the right board materials at the right time to participate most effectively.
Remember waking up in a panic while in high school, thinking you forgot to study for a big test? Board admins can experience that same rush of adrenaline before a big meeting if they fail to deliver relevant information when board directors need it.
As a general rule of thumb, most boards request meeting materials at least a week in advance, so they have time to read through everything and come better prepared for the next board meeting. In addition, your board chair and other members may serve on multiple boards, which require them to read, reference, and track hundreds of documents each month.
Compiling board books, ensuring board members receive the most up-to-date information, and encouraging board members to review the materials prior to a meeting create huge workloads for board administrators. To make staffers’ jobs a little easier, some boards adopt a board portal or central hub to share materials digitally with board directors, provide a secure platform, and save time and effort for the whole organization.
When to Hit the Meeting 'Eject' Button
Let’s face it. Some meetings waste everyone’s valuable time, especially when the same goals can be accomplished through email and various other communication channels.
Be kind to your board, and keep everyone happy, by not scheduling an unnecessary board meeting. Sometimes, it’s better not to meet if there’s:
- No time to prepare
- Another way to communicate and accomplish the same goal
- A sensitive topic or personnel issue better handled one-on-one
- A need to solicit numerous individual opinions
What Changed for Boards in 2021?
How Board Management Software Improves Meeting Preparation
Using board management software streamlines efficient meeting preparation for your board administrators, essentially helping them work more productively. With everything stored in one place, your staffers can easily find and compile the information they need or direct board members on where to find it.
According to OnBoard’s Board Effectiveness Survey, more board management software users reported sending board materials earlier compared to non-users, and board members were better prepared, overall. In addition, survey respondents reported the following:
- 79% said their boards have improved effectiveness in the past 12 months, with 59% citing the shift to remote work as the primary cause.
- 66% have seen improvements in board collaboration.
- 47% have spent more time discussing strategic issues.
- 57% used a digital board management platform. Amongst these respondents, 81% indicated their boards’ improved effectiveness.
- Of the 43% of respondents who did not use board management software, only 58% noted increased effectiveness.
Conducting a virtual board meeting requires directors to prepare better, organize at a higher level, and engage more collaboratively than in-person meetings. Use the following tips to shift to virtual meetings with minimal disruption, or simply ease your board preparation workload for in-person meetings:
- Keep attendees engaged — give each director an assigned role and call on them to give input during the meeting.
- Keep meetings short — break up longer meetings into sessions with breaks, and use voting and survey tools to resolve simple tasks before the meeting.
- Inspire collaboration — use collaboration apps to make pre-meeting prep easier, and note-taking apps to keep a record of discussions and agreements.
- Deploy shared storage services — keep all materials in one place for better organization, and for reference later.
- Implement decisions and track outcomes — use e-voting tools to record and make decisions faster, or send a survey tool to collect individual opinions from board members.
About The Author
- At OnBoard, we believe board meetings should be informed, effective, and uncomplicated. That’s why we give boards and leadership teams an elegant solution that simplifies governance. With customers in higher education, nonprofit, health care systems, government, and corporate enterprise business, OnBoard is the leading board management provider.