By Regenia Bailey / Guest Editorial
Summer, beautiful summer. With vacations, family activities and seasonal distractions, board meeting attendance may dip during summer months. This can be a challenge, since the work of most organizations doesn’t take a summer break.
How can you encourage attendance when board members’ schedules may be even busier than usual?
Make good use of members’ time and skills
Board members are more likely to attend meetings that include significant decisions or discussions. Just consider the attendance at meetings during which the budget is adopted or a new program initiative is discussed.
Unfortunately, many agendas are full of reporting items that do not motivate attendance or participation. Meetings that involve discussion or decision items make much better use of your board members’ time and talents. When members see an agenda filled with items that do not require much input or participation from them at a board meeting, they may decide to skip the meeting and attend to other activities that do require their time and attention.
Too often, however, agendas are assembled quickly without much consideration for board member engagement or the organization’s strategic direction. Developing and using a board calendar to guide monthly activities and topics can help the board stay on track with its annual objectives and periodic responsibilities like evaluation of the chief executive and budget development. Using the calendar as a reference can help board leadership develop more meaningful meeting agendas that include big picture items and make better use of board members’ time and skills.
Change it up
Although there is something to be said for having an expected routine at each meeting, on occasion it may be beneficial to change things up. Consider using a portion of the board meeting for small group discussion or committee work.
Using small group conversation isn’t just something to use at a board retreat. When carefully planned and facilitated, it can be a useful method to encourage engagement when discussing complex issues at regular board meetings.
In many organizations, some board tasks and responsibilities are delegated to committees, but fall by the wayside as committees fail to meet regularly. Providing time at the regular board meeting for committee work may help jumpstart languishing committee activities. It also makes good use of members’ time by holding two meetings in one.
If you don’t want to consistently combine the board meeting with committee meetings, encourage committees to use their board meeting time to set a regular meeting schedule and outline their upcoming activities.
If you change your regular board meeting routines, note this clearly on the agenda. The novelty may be an attendance motivator. If committee work will be part of the meeting’s agenda, include the list of committees and committee members as part of the agenda packet as a reminder. Absences will be more noticeable when the committee lists are provided. For some, this will be a deterrent to skipping the meeting.
Is the meeting really necessary?
Once you’ve done careful analysis of the board’s annual responsibilities and goals, determine a meeting schedule that makes sense for your organization. If there are times on the board calendar with little or no scheduled activities, it makes more sense to take time off from meeting or to meet less frequently than to hold a meeting that does not make good use of the participants’ time.
Often, organization leaders assume that the monthly meeting schedule will help ensure that board members feel engaged and connected to the organization, but if these meetings are a poor use of members’ time, they can have the opposite effect. Develop a meeting schedule that is appropriate for the work of your board and your organization.
If your board does take a break from meeting, determine if the standard written reports will be provided as usual or if these will wait for the next meeting. When coming off of a meeting hiatus, you may need to provide additional reminders, with plenty of lead time, about the next meeting.
If your organization does not have a policy in place to allow the executive committee to make decisions on behalf of the board between meetings, your board may want to consider amending the bylaws to include this provision.
There’s really not a quick fix
Board meeting attendance is a frequent topic of concern among organizational leaders.
Unfortunately, there is no quick fix to address the issue. However, designing agendas that engage your board members’ skills and talents and make good use of their time can make a difference in how likely members are to prioritize the attendance above their other activities.
And that’s a step in the right direction.
Regenia Bailey is a consultant and coach to nonprofits and small businesses at her firm, the Bailey Leadership Initiative. She teachers business courses at Kirkwood Community College. For more information, visit www.baileyleadershipinitiative.com.