It’s no secret – planning and running productive board meetings takes a lot of time. And while board meeting preparation can amount to weeks of hard work, the effort is critical to ensure that directors can be prepared and informed. In this post, we’ll explore some of the best practices of board meeting prep, and we’ll also share a board meeting preparation checklist that you can use as a guide while you work.
While there’s no such thing as a special secret recipe that will allow every board administrator and governance specialist to plan and run the best board meetings, there are guidelines that you can follow. These include:
Preparing for a board meeting can easily feel overwhelming. Use the checklist below to guide you through the process.
You may have already sent out the meeting notice for all board meetings at the beginning of the year. If not, send notice of the upcoming meeting, and, if you’re required to give public notice, post the notice as required by your bylaws. With the notice, send out the meeting invite and watch the RSVP’s start to trickle in.
Then, build out the preliminary agenda. Make sure it includes the meeting location, date, and time. Review the minutes from the last board meeting, pay close attention to follow-up tasks, and make sure each one is included in the preliminary agenda. Once you’ve completed a draft, send it first to the board chair, CEO, and/or executive director, as they may also have items they want to include. Finally, send it out to all board members and any other key individuals attending the meeting.
Next, check the availability of your meeting space and book it. If you have remote board members planning on attending, set up a way for them to join, whether that be by phone or video. If any audio or visual equipment is required, such as computers, screens, projectors, or audio equipment, start thinking about where you’ll get it from. Flip charts, easels, and whiteboards can be handy too, and having extra pens and paper on the table is a good idea. Make arrangements to rent the equipment you need and ensure that any other materials will be available on the day that you need them.
By this point, RSVPs should mostly be in. Contact any directors and presenters who have not yet confirmed their attendance and see if they are planning to attend. If needed, build out a transportation schedule and book hotel rooms.
Once you have an idea of the number of people attending, book catering and any other extra services for during the meeting, as required.
The best board meetings are carefully designed to allow for strategic and productive discussion, but they’re also flexible. That’s why the role of the board meeting agenda is so important. The best board meeting agendas should maximize meeting time so that board members can make informed decisions.
To develop the agenda, start planning with the board chair and CEO/executive director several weeks before the meeting takes place. Using the previous meeting agenda and the preliminary agenda as a guide, work together to add items. Consider the anticipated attendance, the division of items, the expected time to spend on each item, strategies for encouraging discussion, and note any in camera sessions.
Once the agenda is finalized, contact the directors and committee chairs that will be required to submit reports. Provide a deadline to submit reports and follow up as necessary. Then, circulate the agenda to the board, and allow time for directors to request corrections or additions before the board meeting.
Assemble all board meeting materials, including the finalized agenda, financial and/or management reports, committee reports, prior meeting minutes, and any other relevant information. At least a week before the board meeting, send out the board materials to directors so that they have sufficient time to review it all. If you’re using a board portal, the process of distributing these materials is seamless, but if not, ensure that you allow sufficient time for all materials to be delivered.
If you’re not using board technology like Aprio to streamline your minutes document creation, prepare a minutes template prior to the meeting that includes the meeting date, time, and location. Add sections for the major items of the agenda and leave room for note-taking.
If any directors have not submitted their reports, follow up with them and determine a method to distribute those materials to all attendees.
The day before the meeting, check the meeting space and ensure that all required supplies and seating requirements are met. Make sure that catering arrangements are finalized and that the meeting attendees are aware of how to access the space. Pack up your laptop and charger, and any other materials you need to bring, and get a good night’s rest. Good luck!
There are still a few items left to take care of before you have a well-deserved break. Here’s a starting point:
Make sure the meeting space is clear of any printed board materials and that any leftover food is put away. If you had to rent or borrow any meeting room supplies, ensure that they are returned.
The day after the meeting, remove any public meeting notices. These may be replaced with the date, time, and location of the next meeting, if that’s already been decided.
If there were any changes to the previous meeting’s minutes approved by the board, make those revisions, and have them signed and dated by the board chair. Then, start to draft the current meeting’s minutes while the meeting is still fresh in your mind, and distribute them. Create a clear process for directors to review and edit the minutes.
In the minutes or in another document that is distributed to all board members, make sure to list assigned tasks and the completion dates for each.
To prevent frustration from building up, use an online survey in your board portal to poll your members for feedback after each meeting. Doing this will help you get a continuous pulse on how board members are feeling and prevent unsaid frustration from festering and eventually boiling over. It can also help you improve the structure of future board meetings.
If directors incurred any travel expenses to attend the board meeting, have them submit their expenses so that they can be tracked.
Within a week after each board meeting, meet with the chair and CEO for a debrief. Discuss what went right, what went wrong, what you learned, and what lessons you can carry with you into the next board meeting. You can also discuss the feedback you received from directors in your survey.
If there are outstanding action items, you can also discuss who is accountable for them and how progress will be tracked.
Moving to board management software simplifies repeat processes as well as director access, effectively streamlining the meeting preparation process in several ways and saving you hours of preparation time.
You can use board portal software like Aprio to centralize all communication, so there’s no more worry about links and files getting lost in an endless email swirl. You can also use Aprio to build agendas and minutes, assign tasks, poll directors to determine best-fit meeting dates, and track director expenses, all in one place. Aprio also conforms to the highest security standards in the industry, so there’s no need to worry about data security.
When the board material is ready to send out to the board, you can send directors an email letting them know the meeting material is in the portal and ready for review. As long as board members have a computer or tablet, they can log in to Aprio and access the material anytime.
If anyone – directors or administrators – wishes to review past meeting materials, they can access it in Aprio’s library. Aprio lets you archive meeting material and organizes it by date and meeting material type (which makes it far easier to find). The library also houses reference material such as policies, procedures, strategic/business plans, and budgets – and it’s all digital, so there’s no need to print and mail it (or even attach to it an email).
Using tools like a board meeting preparation checklist can definitely help you to stay on track while working through the planning process, but don’t overlook the value of purpose-built board portal technology for running and planning efficient board meetings.