Board reports are crucial documents for every organization. Know how to properly communicate your organization's performance, recent activities, and current direction.
When determining how to write a report for the board of directors, try to be as thorough as possible, as this important document informs the board about how the company or nonprofit is performing, what’s happened since the last meeting, and where the organization is headed.
It’s crucial for the board of directors report to be accurate, but also engaging, as these documents can be long and detailed — and possibly ignored by busy board members. An ill-informed board gives competitors an advantage, so make sure to deliver the board report in a clear and concise format.
Ask for examples of past board of director’s reports to determine the most informative writing style for your organization. With the OnBoard board management software app, you can download an easy-to-use template to craft an engaging board of directors’ report.
What is a Board Report?
Board reports give board members the information they need to know prior to a meeting, and serve as a reference document with details for items mentioned in the board agenda, meeting minutes, or executive summary report.
The report to the board of directors compiles and summarizes information gathered from the various committees and departments in the organization in a more brief and readable format. Oftentimes, the CEO, CFO, and sometimes committee members and board secretary, decide what content to include and how to format the board of directors report template.
A board report should be easy to read and as straightforward as possible, uncomplicating the material for time-crunched board members. It’s important to approve accurate board reports, as they will be entered into the board minutes and may be referred to at any time, especially if a legal issue arises.
Is There a Difference Between the Board’s, Committee’s, and Director's Reports?
The short answer? Yes. But it’s important to understand what’s included in each.
- The board selects a committee to research a specific issue or perform a certain task. The committee writes a report detailing their actions regarding the assigned task, and the board integrates the committee report into the board report template.
- The executive director’s report provides a more comprehensive overview on the entire company or organization, including performance data from every management team and department.
- The board report summarizes the committee reports and executive director’s report into one easy-to-follow board report template. Prior to the meeting, each board member receives a board packet with all the information in a digital format or on paper.
What is the Purpose of a Board Report?
Board members make decisions at board meetings that affect the entire organization, and they rely on past and current board reports to assist in that decision-making and board governance. A board report often shows progress and performance, and should easily convey the key takeaways and any actions taken or needed by the board.
Board reports serve to:
1. Inform board members of company progress
The primary purpose of the board report is to inform the board of important happenings within the organization, typically highlighting the time frame between the last and current meetings. Boards may meet monthly, quarterly, every six months or even annually. As part of their oversight duties, every board member should read, comment, and ask questions about the board report.
2. Hear committee reports on assigned tasks
Board members and sometimes outside consultants are assigned to board committees based on their knowledge and expertise. The committee meets, researches, and eventually makes recommendations to the board. It’s important to include committee reports in the board report, so all board members know the progress of the committee and can ask questions.
3. Initiate questions and discussion during the board meeting
After calling a board meeting to order, the executive director introduces the board report. The executive director highlights the most important parts of the report, reviews management’s performance, and raises awareness to the most important issues. Board members then discuss the report, asking questions and presenting ideas. When the board needs more information, they can refer to the board report in greater detail.
Board Report Structure
When forming the structure of your board reporting template, think in terms of bullet points, graphs, tables, and images to help inform your readers about the key takeaways. Providing only text makes the board report dry and less likely for the board to grasp key points.
Generally, the structure of the board report should contain the following:
- Title: Describe the focus of the report in a few short words.
- Table of contents: Include an itemized list for reports with multiple pages.
- Introduction: Briefly summarize what to expect in the report.
- Clear headings: Identify key themes or important issues quickly.
- Bullet points: Highlight key performance indicators (KPIs).
- Summary: Analyze the report findings, including actions taken or required.
To determine the content of the board report, you must first determine the goal of the report. Do you want the board to change strategy? Do you need to acquire or sell resources? Or are you providing a situational report on a specific issue?
Providing relevant information in an engaging way is key to the content of any board report. The report should also show both the positives and negatives to allow the board to consider the issue fully. Only presenting one side of a situation may bias the board, as they need complete and accurate information to best manage the company’s direction.
Board members manage multiple tasks in their very busy lives, so make sure they can easily find the most important information and any external sources cited in the board report.
Some board reports may be as short as a page, some a few pages, and others, such as annual reports, may be bound, 100-page booklets. To make the content engaging and easy to understand, the report should contain as many bullet points, images, graphs, and tables as possible.
Board Report Template
When creating a board of directors report template, you can use a standard report to board of directors template found online, or subscribe to a board management software service like OnBoard to customize your board reporting template specifically to your organization.
Consider this sample board reporting template from OnBoard.
Tips on How to Write a Report for a Board Meeting
Writing a good board report takes a lot of hard work, not just for you, but for the members of your team who must gather information for your report. You want to make sure the information is accurate, highlights the important aspects of the organization in an engaging way, and presents all the information the board needs to provide good board governance.
Here are some tips for how to write a board meeting report:
Create a director’s board meeting template
Invest some time in deciding which template to use for this and all future board reports. This will save you time when preparing the next meeting’s report, and it also helps the board become familiar with how important points are structured in the board report.
Know your audience
Knowing the board and where their expertise lies will help you write a clear and concise report, saving you from writing over their heads or explaining things they already know. For example, if the board doesn’t know metrics of the industry, you may need to devote more time to an explanation in the board report, so they can make an informed decision. You should also use language all board members understand.
Help the board understand the report
The board of directors report is a team effort between department heads and committees. Lean on them to help provide content for your report in easy-to-understand language and terms. Your introduction should be a clear and concise summary of what the board should expect to glean from the report.
Provide the whole of the financials
The board report often contains financial information and current conditions of the industry. Try to provide a whole picture of the financials, so the board understands why the market share increased or decreased, for instance. You must provide a summary of the metrics to give context to the financial portion of your report.
Provide the positives and negatives
There are always two sides to any decision, and providing both the positives and negatives of a situation will help the board make a complete and informed decision. If you only provide one side of the story, you may bias board members into making a wrong decision that affects the organization in a negative way.
Breaking up the text with visuals is the best way to highlight key information. It also keeps the board of directors report engaging and more likely to be read. You can break up the text using pictures, tables, pie charts, graphs and even bullet points.
Ask important questions
Board members serve several functions. They make financial decisions for the organization, but they also lend their knowledge. Board members are experts in your industry or have other skills that can help to run the company. Ask questions of the board, and give them time to contemplate or research answers before bringing them to the meeting.
Keep KPIs within reach
Remember, KPIs are your key performance indicators, which tell the board how your organization is performing against specific strategic business goals. These indicators help guide the board in its decision-making. Putting KPIs in a dashboard or an easy-to-access place in your board report will help the board find these indicators quickly and easily.
Use board management software
Technology allows us to do things more easily and efficiently. Using board management software allows you to create the board of directors report and, if necessary, make any changes to the report prior to the meeting without having to print out additional hard copies or addendums. Using board management software also allows the board to ask questions and interact with each other by making notes online.
Give the board time
As noted previously, board members typically juggle many responsibilities. Giving them a day or two to read, digest, and form questions about the report is usually not enough time. Board meeting experts suggest providing a digital report at least two weeks in advance of the meeting.
What Not to Do When Writing a Board Report
Here are three tips on what not to do when writing a board report:
- Don’t make it hard to read: If you read your report and your eyes start glazing over from all the information, your board will likely feel the same. Make sure the information is broken up with visuals and bullet points to highlight key points.
- Show don’t tell: Sure, your staff has been busy since the last meeting, but you don’t need to tell your board. Show them how busy they’ve been by providing relevant information on issues that will help your board make decisions. Ask someone to go over your copy prior to the meeting.
- Don’t deliver the report late: What does it say when someone shows up for a meeting late? It typically says the person didn’t consider the meeting that important. The same goes for your report. If you don’t give your board plenty of time to read, digest, and make notes on the report, they’ll be less likely to give it the attention it deserves.
Ready to take your meeting agenda and minutes to the next level? Request a demo or a free trial of OnBoard, the board intelligence platform that empowers boards and committees to hold more effective, informed, and uncomplicated meetings.
Reporting to the board is an important responsibility and takes a lot of teamwork with others in your organization. By creating a board meeting template, selecting and using board management software, you can save yourself, your team and board members time, thereby helping them make the best decisions for your organization.
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