The executive summary is the most critical part of a board report. We cover the importance, structure, tips, and formatting of a good one.
Pulling together a board report takes considerable time and energy, but you can’t overlook the most critical component — the executive summary.
As the name implies, an executive summary offers a concise overview of the report’s key points, arming board members with the right information to form an opinion or take action without reading the complete board report.
Read on to learn how to write a good executive summary for a board report.
Why Writing a Good Executive Summary Is Important
Boards often consist of busy executives or business leaders who may not have the time to read a 100-plus page board book or full digital board report. The executive summary serves a key role by presenting the most critical information board members need to know to take action or make a decision. As the board administrator, you want to make it as seamless as possible.
Think of it this way: If board members read only read one page in the report, it needs to be the executive summary. And in reality, there’s a good chance more people will read the executive summary than the full board report.
With an effective executive summary, your board members should feel confident and informed to take action, simply from reading a condensed version of the most important points. As you write an executive summary, make sure to pay considerable detail to the format and structure.
How to Structure an Executive Summary
Whether you’re a seasoned board administrator or you’re nervously putting together your first board report, you may be wondering how to structure your executive summary, and that’s OK. Just follow this guide, and use the included template to inform your executive summary.
Some boards use digital board management software with pre-built templates when writing an executive summary for a (board) report, while others still rely on paper board books. Either way, you want to structure the executive summary so it’s concise and easy to digest.
Try to keep it to a page, and only include the most high-level information your board members need to know for the specific meeting. Long, wordy paragraphs or unimportant information will turn off board members, and potentially derail the entire meeting or prevent you from accomplishing the meeting’s top objectives.
Typically, an executive summary reinforces the goals or purpose of the report, spotlights the most critical points, and recommends action items for the full board to address.
Make sure to create the executive summary after finishing your board report. It’s not a title page or introduction, it’s a succinct recap of the full board report. You’ll most certainly leave out key information if you write the executive summary before compiling the full board report.
Remember, you want your board members to fully understand the core information from reading the executive summary alone, not the complete report. Keep it short, and to-the-point. Most importantly, it needs to stand alone.
Board Report Executive Summary Template
Although highly important, don’t overthink your executive summary. It simply needs to present the most mission-critical information in a concise way, so the board can quickly decide a course of action. Your summary should recap the intent of the report, key questions, conclusions, and suggested actions.
Again, make sure to write your executive summary after you complete the full board report. Otherwise, you may leave out key information, or end up rewriting parts of the summary.
Consider this executive summary example template.
- Start with the background: Begin your summary by summarizing the need and timing for the report. Is it a routine board meeting, or are you bringing the group together to address a unique concern or specific issue? Then, mention how it all ties in to the organization’s goals and objectives.
- Questions to address: Detail the specific questions the board report addresses. Try to focus on three to five key questions, to keep the members focused and your meeting on track. Each question should correlate to an answer included in the executive summary, no matter positive or negative, so board members see clear and accurate information.
- Proposed conclusions: Provide individual answers to each of the questions listed in your executive summary. This prevents board members from needing to read through the full report to find answers.
- Needed Actions: Candidly list the specific action you want the board to take. Do you need the board to vote on an initiative? Are you simply seeking advice from the board?
6 Tips on How to Write an Executive Summary for a Board Report
All organizations operate in their own unique ways, and there’s truly no one-size-fits-all solution to writing an executive summary for a board report. In addition to this guide, consider studying executive summary examples online, and consult other board administrators in your network.
In short, a good executive summary concisely summarizes the report’s background, core findings and methods, as well as proposed solutions and actions you want the board to endorse.
Make sure to carefully review the complete board report, then condense it to one page, typically around 400 words.
Consider these tips to write a good executive summary.
- Prep your executive summary: You might feel exhausted from putting together your board report, but you can’t cut corners when you write an executive summary. Just remember, the executive summary serves as the most critical component of the entire report, and larger board meeting. It might be the only page some board members read. Give yourself ample time to comb through the full report, then identify the purpose of the report, key questions to address at the board meeting, proposed solutions to solve organizational challenges, and suggested actions you want each board member to take.
- Define the purpose: Start the executive summary by outlining the core goals and objectives of the report, including the reasoning and timing for each. The purpose might be to bring the board up to speed on a specific project, obtain the board’s input, approve funding for new initiatives or new hires, or vote to add or remove members from the board. If you simply want the board to approve a request, consider leading with the proposal. For example, “This report requests the board to approve two hires to support the marketing team.”
- Identify key questions: To run an effective board meeting, you want the group to focus on three to five mission-critical objectives. Each point or question you address in the executive summary should exactly match the structure of the full board report, so members can quickly jump to the corresponding section if they need further information.
- Propose solutions and actionable next steps: As the board administrator you need to clearly explain the proposed solutions to each of the questions, articulate the specific actions you want the board to take, and explain how the proposed solutions benefit the organization. Make sure to consider the motivations of each board member. For example, the Chief Technology Officer will be motivated by actions that make the organization safer from security threats or breaches, while the Chief Financial Officer wants to see solutions to save on operational costs and maximize profits.
- Simplify the process with board management software: More and more boards now run their meetings with all-in-one board management software to streamline efficiencies, enhance collaboration, reduce costs and manual processes, and optimize all facets of their virtual, hybrid, and in-person meetings. Specifically, when it comes to executive summaries, a board management solution allows administrators to quickly make real-time updates to the executive summary and larger board report, without needing to reprint board books. It not only saves time and reduces stress, and saves money on paper and printing costs because all of your board’s materials live in the cloud.
- Proof your executive summary: Don’t overlook the crucial step of proofreading your executive summary (and full board report) before presenting to the board. Aside from missing an embarrassing typo or mistake, you need to ensure all financial records, legal language, as well as your proposed solutions are all accurate and up-to-date. Again, a board management system simplifies the process, and eliminates the stress of needing to make last-minute updates or reprinting bulky board books.
Formatting Your Executive Summary
Sure, it might seem like an unimportant afterthought, but formatting plays a significant role in crafting an effective executive summary. It needs to simultaneously offer a high-level overview of the most critical points, while also being easy on the eyes. Less is more; just make sure to include the most important information.
Keep it to a single page, make use of white space and margins, and avoid using small fonts. Separate each section with a well-thought-out subhead. For example, instead of “Solutions,” come up with something more engaging, say, “Proposed solutions to boost revenue by 200%.” If you intend to list stats or other figures, use bullets to make them easier to read. However, try to avoid multiple bullet lists.
Note: Most board management solutions, including OnBoard, come fully equipped with executive summary templates to ensure a professional, uniform look.
Simplify Board Management with OnBoard
The small-but-mighty executive summary serves as the most important part of the board report. Use these tips and consult the included template as you think about how to write an executive summary for a board report. If you’re looking to reduce the burden of creating board reports, streamline processes, and improve collaboration, consider investing in an all-in-one board management solution like OnBoard.
Tired of making last-minute changes? Reach out today to see how OnBoard simplifies the board management experience.
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