Good governance doesn’t end at creating a Governance Committee of the board or even of establishing processes for governance such as policies and procedures, or even developing new committee structures.
Governance has only begun. It continues with a well formed and crafted agenda for all meetings both at the Board and, most especially, at the committee level.
Do you put casual thought into your agenda or do your spend time carefully constructing the flow and feel of the meeting?
I say, don’t take the agenda lightly. It can indeed work to shift a culture from management to governance just by mear fact of the topics, the order of the items, and those responsible for reporting.
Agenda’s need to be carefully crafted and constructed to produce concrete action items. Poorly devised agendas will cause meetings to go astray, tensions to rise, and governance to quickly turn to management.
How do you begin to structure your agenda? Well, think about what topics are important for this group to discuss and what is the best use of their time.
Here are some suggestions for your next meeting:
Hold reports and updates to the end of the meeting or even consider eliminating them entirely so; that meeting doesn’t get mired in the muck.
Prepare reflective materials with statistics and numbers relevant to more strategic discussions.
Think about the natural flow of the meeting and adjust items to reflect that flow.
Prepare and circulate meeting materials in advance of the meeting. The expectation is that one comes to a meeting fully ready to participate.
Put standing meeting items i.e. strategic plan report or a fund development calendar update on each and every agenda and keep them “low” on the agenda.
Or consider moving to a “consent agenda” where routine items that the board would approve with little comments are encompassed into one single agenda item i.e. things like board meeting minutes, financials, program reports, CEO reports, approvals of contracts, etc., etc., etc.
And, you need an effective chair of the Board,of the committee, or the task force who can work with staff to set the agenda, keep the group on the agenda, and ensure that the tenure of the meeting supports good governance. The role of the chair is to be a facilitator regarding the meeting and the agenda, and an enabler of governance. The chair must know and understand what good governance is to serve in that role.
Meetings are that essential to good governance. Just as reorganizing the board, or reengineering committee structures, good meetings with purposeful and thoughtful agendas can create the magic of good governance.
You can take all the other steps, but if you meeting falls apart when the gavel hits the table of what use has that all the rest been?
Good governance has only just begun!
P.S. – Are you looking for more resources on good governance? And, you want to be successful? Get started with my Non-Profit Governance E-Book that includes a collection of my best blog articles on that all important topic. Email me to request your copy. I will share with you all the best tips and resources for moving your board from managing to governing.
Board governance is challenging work. It is especially difficult for smaller organizations. Even more so in all volunteer organizations.
When organizations lack staff including an Executive Director, it is the Board of Directors who often fills in the “gap” of responsibility regarding getting the day to day activities of the organization done. Board members may be out sweeping, cutting down trees, writing appeal letters, and providing critical direct services to clients. So, doing Board governance is often last on a small Board’s list of things to do or to talk about at Board meetings.
What is Board governance? Board governance is the process whereby the Board operates as a collective unit to ensure the health of the organization through overseeing things such as legal and moral obligations and a relevant and impactful mission. That is governance. It is not the day to day oversight of an organization; that is management.
There is a distinction between the Board as a collective and the roles of individual Board members. So, when the Board meets as a collective, it must focus on Corporate Governance. However, that does not preclude individual Board members from wanting to do management kinds of things – within reason.
It doesn’t matter the size of the Board or the staff. All Boards need to focus and act on Corporate Governance. They can’t be focused on management and expect to do a Board’s due diligence in terms of ensuring the health and sustainability of the organization. Some have said to me, “We are an all volunteer organization, we don’t have staff. These types of things don’t apply to us.” A Board is a Board is a Board, and Boards exist to ensure the legal, moral, and ethical fabric of the organization and be the vanguard for its mission.
Board members should not be discussing whether or not the clients need more hours or that some gardens need planting. That is not the realm of the Board. The Board as a collective should be looking at things like what is on the horizon in terms of financial risks, how they should plan for the future strategically, do they have a leadership succession plan in place, what are the expectations of their Board members, and are they in compliance with federal and state mandates.
How does a small organization with limited staff or all volunteers make this transition from management to Corporate Governance? It is not easy, but it can be done. When any Board is thinking about moving towards a Board governance model, which they should, the most important first strategic questions they must ask themselves as a Board collective is “Do we even want change?” “What will change mean for our organization?” “What will happen if we don’t decide to change?” and “What will change look like for our Board?”
There must be consensus on these critical questions before moving forward towards a Corporate Governance model. Before thinking about term-limits or financial risks, the Board of Directors must be committed to moving forward in a different, new way. This will be the first exercise that the Board undertakes in its new Corporate Governance role. Without this commitment, Board Governance will not happen.