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Make Your Nonprofit Board Meetings Magical

No one likes a dull board meeting, or a long one, or one that doesn’t start on time. And, board meetings that are unfocused or that are dominated by one person can really take a toll on board morale. All of these factors ring especially true for volunteers who spend many hours sitting through board meetings on behalf of a nonprofit. That’s why we turned to guest blogger Susan Schaefer for fresh ideas on this problem in this week’s guest post.  

Make Your Nonprofit Board Meetings Magical

What Makes a Great Meeting?

Let’s begin with the ideal. Take any regular group meetings that have gone smoothly in your life. Chances are, they share these traits:

  • Convenient, agreed-upon meeting time and location
  • Prompt start and end times
  • A realistic agenda, focused on substantive issues
  • Participation by the full group
  • Ongoing dialogue
  • Opportunities to learn
  • An environment of trust, transparency, respect…and humor
  • A regular vehicle for feedback about the meeting
  • Food
  • A sprinkling of fun

Things are no different for board meetings, with one exception: Regular connection to the mission, or “mission moments” are also critical.

What Does a Productive and Fun Agenda Look Like?

Hopefully, your agenda focuses on items that require board input or decisions. The biggest meeting-related flaw is likely a habit of “reporting out,” or regurgitation information already found in the board packet. Your chair and ED must do a delicate dance around creating a decision-based agenda, one that keeps the meeting focused on discussion and voting around issues that require board verdicts. So, the chair must ensure that members have enough information in advance of the meeting to make good decisions at the meeting.

Standard agendas include a call to order, approval of the previous meeting’s minutes, and the welcoming of new members or guests. Consider including time estimates next to each subsequent item. The times may deviate a bit, but by committing to timeframes, it becomes easier to determine whether the chair needs to get the meeting back on track.

These are among the most substantive elements of any good board agenda:

  • Board development. This might include a ten- to fifteen-minute mission moment, or another opportunity for the board to learn about its job. Ideas include financial literacy training, fundraising discussions, or a presentation about a political or economic issue that affects your organization. Of course, a client or member’s first-person account of change is also a terrific educational tool.


  • The big picture. There is almost always a major issue looming, be it the impending loss of a large funder, the shift in government interest away from (or to!) your nonprofit’s focus area, or even talk of a pending merger with another agency. It is good to give the group time to flesh out its most pressing issues—ideally, before those issues become too urgent.


  • Decision points. Outside of that one big-picture item, much of the rest of the content can focus on any topics that reqire board decisions or strategic input. Those often include review and approval of the budget or strategic plan, ED evaluation or compensation issues, or items about relocating or renovating the physical space.


  • Fun! A few light moments can help break up what might otherwise be a long meeting on top of a long workday. Some boards create team-based contests to see who can bring the most guests to the annual event, while others are lucky enough to have recruited a candidate who keeps the group laughing regularly.


The agenda plays a key role in keeping the board focused where it needs to be: governance and big issues. Even if you’re not the one creating the agenda, feel to provide gentle feedback about it to your chair or governance committee.

Developing agendas and running meetings might seem simple, but between content, culture, and keeping the agenda within time constraints, it can be a difficult job. Yet, it’s one worth investing some time. Meetings have the power to retain stellar members. They can also make your time on the board more engaging and productive.


This blog is excerpted from the book, Nonprofit Board Service for the GENIUS, written by Susan Schaefer and Bob Wittig. 

Susan is a consultant, writer, and speaker. The Nonprofit Consulting Playbook and YOU and Your Nonprofit Board are among her other writing projects. Susan’s practical approach to fundraising and board development has made her a frequent presenter at conferences and in classrooms, including a course she teaches at Johns Hopkins University. In 2001, Susan founded Resource Partners LLC, which guides nonprofits to meet their income goals within their unique financial and human resource limitations.

Since 2002, Bob has been executive director of the Jovid Foundation in Washington, DC. In addition to grantmaking, he has hosted a monthly “Lunch Club” for grantee ED’s and a “Breakfast Club” for grantee board members. He also helped spearhead the effort to develop a co-location of organizations, The Work Place DC, and the development of a shared database system, HIRE DC, to be used by small workforce development organizations to track participant achievements and report collective impact.