10 tips to help nonprofits run effective meetings

September 10, 2014

10 tips to help nonprofits run effective meetings

How do nonprofit staff and board members hold effective meetings? If a nonprofit doesn't effectively prepare for a gathering of stakeholders, those attending the meeting can become apprehensive and disengaged fairly quickly. Personnel may even begin to view the event as a waste of their time because it's disorganized and no actionable outcomes are achieved.

In reality, meetings can be highly productive encounters for everyone involved if attendees take the appropriate steps to prepare for them. Here are 10 tips for nonprofit professionals looking to make their next meeting highly efficient and meaningful:

  1. Create an agenda
    When nonprofit board members come together to discuss issues related to governance and creating a sustainable organization, they should take a structured approach. According to The Fundraising Authority, many nonprofits allow too much room for interpretation while developing an agenda by broadly labeling items as a "fundraising update" or "outstanding issues." Additionally, it may be worth the board members' time to review recent fundraising or membership developments as they pertain to governance, and there should be a specific time limit established for each action item.
  2. Set a time limit for meetings
    Part and parcel of a functional nonprofit meeting is keeping it within a reserved time frame. According to Wild Apricot, a software service provider for membership organizations, it's imperative that meetings begin and finish on time. It not only sets a bad precedent for future gatherings if they routinely begin 5 – 10 minutes late, but also negatively impacts attendees' perception of the event. In other words, it demonstrates a lack of respect for the members who show up on time. In addition, meetings that run over the allotted limit similarly reflects poorly on the organization. The Fundraising Authority explained board members are volunteers and may have other obligations.
  3. Address only single issues of controversy or conflict per any single meeting
    Even the most efficient meeting won't likely address all nuances of a conflict occurring within a nonprofit organization. As Wild Apricot suggested, limit the talking points surrounding a controversy to a specific priority in order to effectively make progress. For instance, if an association has issues retaining members, don't attempt to pin down all causes during the span of an hour-long meeting, but rather select on to focus on during the current meeting.
  4. Keep tech distractions to a minimum
    According to Forbes, there aren't many reasons to bring iPhones or iPads into a meeting. These electronic devices often end up being more of a distraction than a tool that facilitates discussion. There are organizations that have effectively gone paperless and use tablets to distribute agendas ahead of time, but it's up to the participants to ensure the technology isn't being abused. From emails to mobile apps, there are a number of ways that meeting attendees can get drawn away from the discussion at hand and not put forth their full effort.
  5. Meet on schedule
    If nonprofits plan meetings haphazardly – for instance, when significant amounts of time elapse between gatherings – it's likely too many events will occur than can be effectively discussed during a single meeting. Accordingly, Inc. Magazine recommended staying regular with these gatherings. With greater consistency, attendees can anticipate when they can expect to participate.
  6. Assess the invite list
    It's likely that not all meetings will be pertinent to each staff or board member. As a result, Forbes suggested keeping a keen eye on the individuals invited to the event. The topic for discussion should be directly relevant and applicable to the attendees – otherwise, they'll likely become alienated because they won't have anything to add.
  7. Assign a facilitator
    Bruce Lesley, senior governance consultant for BoardSource, spoke on a Stanford Graduate School of Business video indicating that there should be a person in charge of enabling discussion. Lesley recommended the board chair is the person for the job, and he or she can facilitate conversations that are interactive. The outcome of the meeting should produce results beyond the contributions of any single attendee.
  8. Keep reading time to a minimum
    Nonprofit Quarterly indicated reports serve a definite purpose, but just not as an item to be read during a meeting. It's understood that meeting attendees can likely read through important reports before the event, but taking up precious minutes during a meeting to read verbatim isn't an effective use of time. If anything, a report should serve as a spring board for further discussion or for members to ask for clarification if needed.
  9. Track the discussion with meeting minutes
    Any effective agenda is generally accompanied by thorough meeting minutes. They may not be the most exciting part of an active discussion, but they're often necessary to keep all attendees on the same page, especially in advance of future gatherings.
  10. Provide time for reflection
    According to Inc., a meeting should end with sufficient time to review the decisions and outcomes – even five minutes is sufficient.

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