Setting Your Board Meeting Agenda? Here’s How to Get Started Plus 3 Free Templates
Make sure you create an effective board meeting agenda and download these 3 free templates.
How many meetings have you had that could have been an email?
Your board meetings are some of the most important for your organization. In the past, these often took the form of marathon-length meetings, weekend-long conferences, or all-day retreats.
But what about a virtual board meeting?
If you’ve pivoted to remote-first board meetings in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, then you know they can be a challenge. It can be tempting to want to pack every single detail into the meeting agenda, but you don’t have the luxury of an all-day in-person meeting.
No one wants to be chained to their computer that long – and you’ll get that glazed-over look from your board members that screams, “Get me out of here!”
Running board meetings virtually with tools like Whereby means you can stay focused on the priorities that matter. So, whether you plan to go back to in-person meetings, keep it virtual, or a hybrid combination of the two, you need to make sure you’re crafting an effective board meeting agenda.
How to Create an Effective Board Meeting Agenda Plus 3 Free Templates to Get You Started
Start with one overarching question that shapes your board meetings strategically so every time you meet, you know you’re making it worth everyone’s time. As you build out the rest of your agenda, follow these seven steps:
1. Make sure the agenda reflects the goal of the meeting
This sounds obvious, but if you’ve been trapped in a board meeting that stretches on...and on...and on...vague agenda items could be the culprit.
Whether your board meets monthly, quarterly, or only once a year, make sure the agenda reflects your goals. Be clear about the purpose of the meeting before it begins, and reiterate that purpose as you move through each agenda item.
Most agenda items come down to three goals:
Inform: Informing the board about a specific initiative or challenge
Advise: Asking for advice and guidance from the expertise of the board members
Decide: Bringing forth a proposal that requires a decision
For each item, include the reason and ideal outcome.
2. Follow a consent agenda
Do you have to talk through every single detail?
Probably not. That’s where the practice of consent agendas help save time and keep the board focused on the key decisions they need to make at the meeting.
Rather than spend time discussing minutia like meeting minutes or small policy changes, consent agendas group routine business updates and decisions into one agenda item and one vote. By rolling these smaller, non-essential (but legally or procedurally important) items into one, you can move forward more quickly.
Add these items to your consent agenda:
Routine program, committee, or staff reports
Information-only reports that don’t require further discussion
Minor policy or procedure changes
Standard or regular contracts, vendor changes, or updates
Staffing, volunteer, or committee appointments
Formal approvals of past discussions or agenda items
Send the consent agenda as part of the pre-meeting materials well in advance so board members can review them at their own convenience. If there’s an item in the consent agenda a member wants to discuss further, make sure they let you know ahead of the meeting so you can adjust accordingly.
Then, the first item of business can be to approve the consent agenda.
3. Send the board meeting agenda in advance
Your board members don’t spend 100% of their time focused on your organization, and you shouldn’t expect them to. Keep the most important information top-of-mind by sending out the agenda well in advance – at least a week, depending on the length of the meeting and number of items you want to discuss.
Keep your pre-work focused on and aligned to the goals in your agenda. Of course you’ll want to keep members informed of all the goings-on in your organization, but information overload only creates paralysis and can derail your agenda. Rely on staff and committees to handle the details and focus on high-level summaries that are no more than 10 pages.
Include the agenda and the pre-work in the meeting invite and in your reminder email so there are no surprises. The more prepared your members are, the more productive a conversation you can have.
4. Build meeting agendas collaboratively
You’ve brought the board together because of their collective expertise and experience – so use them! Establish clear communication channels for board members to add agenda items on topics they’re passionate about, or include a slot in the agenda for a member-driven item each meeting.
But it’s not just about the board, either. Make sure to poll senior staff and be in touch with the broader organization so you know what items to include that aren’t part of the routine, especially if there are key challenges the board can help solve (or wins to celebrate!).
5. Rotate presentations and reports
Each board meeting should include a report or read-out from someone besides the CEO or Executive Director. That gives the board more context on a given challenge or topic and provides them with more exposure to your staff and vice versa. Include who will be presenting and what corresponding pre-work they should complete for each item.
You can structure your agendas in two ways:
Tackling the most important items and decisions first. This guarantees that whatever the top priority is for your meeting gets addressed, but can mean smaller (but still important) items aren’t given the attention they deserve. Take this approach for meetings where everyone already has the information they need to make the decision.
Setting context and information first. This gives the board more face-time with more people, but could keep you from getting to your most important items. This is a great approach for meetings where members might need a little more context before making a decision.
Rotate which departments or committees present at each meeting so it’s always something different, timed with important announcements or campaigns. Have marketing give the highlights from a recent event or product demonstrate the newest launch, for example.
6. Warm up with a few questions
And no, we don’t mean “How are you?”
Whether you’re meeting virtually or in-person, include a few minutes in your agenda to catch up with other board members. If you only meet every few months, it can be exciting to say hello. It’s the small talk that builds culture and connection, especially if you’re working through tough decisions together.
Choose one short icebreaker that warms everyone up and helps them step into the mindset of the meeting, like:
What’s one thing you learned last week?
What book are you reading?
What’s one thing you’re looking forward to this week?
What’s one word that describes your day today?
If you could be any animal/vegetable/household item/food, what would it be?
If you have a board larger than 10, consider using breakout groups or chatting in smaller subsections to get the conversation flowing.
7. Make it a conversation...with time limits
No one wants to be talked at.
But you don’t want crickets when it’s time to discuss important ideas, either.
Make sure you leave enough time for discussion on each agenda item, and include time sots of 15 or 20 minute increments on the agenda so everyone knows roughly how much time is allotted for each topic.
A sample 60-minute meeting agenda template could look like this:
Notice that each of the types of goals are balanced in terms of time – reports, presentations, discussions, and decision-making. When you set times for agenda items, try to be realistic. If you know there will be a healthy debate around a certain subject, make sure you include enough time to go over if needed for a high-priority item.
Then, make sure you’ve included time to remind board members of action items and next steps, going around the room so that every member leaves the meeting knowing what they need to do between now and the next meeting.