How To Create Awesome Non-Profit Board Meetings

How To Create Awesome Non-Profit Board Meetings

How To Create Awesome Non-Profit Board Meetings

Well, fear not, because whether you’re a volunteer, Executive Director, or the guy who brings the muffins, this article is your guide on ‘How To Create Awesome Non-Profit Board Meetings.” These tips are based on my own experience working as a Professional Meeting Facilitator.

What does the phrase “non-profit board meeting” make you want to do?

  1. Smile – Because you volunteer for an effective non-profit board that can easily raise money to get excellent results for clients?
  2. Bite Your Lip – Because you don’t want to say anything bad about fellow non-profit board members who said they would get something done after the last meeting and they didn’t?
  3. Scream Out Loud – Because the current non-profit board that you are volunteering for is a total waste of your time?

I often work with non-profits to cut through the personality dynamics which challenge people to focus on key issues and prevent them from achieving their board’s goals. I have also been a volunteer board member (for Concrete Theatre) and I have done communications consulting projects for non-profits including the United Way and EmployAbilities .

With all of this experience helping non-profits I have seen the good, the bad and the ugly and I hope that you can use this article to avoid the last two.

As we can all agree, the quality of a board meeting can make or break a non-profit organization. So what will happen if you don’t take action to improve your next meeting?

  • You may not raise the money you need
  • Your Executive Director may quit
  • The professional (Accountant/Lawyer/Doctor etc.) that you worked so hard to get to volunteer may quietly resign because they feel that their time is not being well used
  • And ultimately the people you are serving will suffer

Effective non-profits approach a board meeting like it’s a business;

  • They define clear goals for each meeting and they connect those goals to their overall strategy
  • They know how to recruit the right board members and they get rid of anyone who doesn’t fit
  • They hold themselves accountable and they get real results that can be measured

Ineffective non-profits approach a board meeting like it’s a club;

  • Where board members are selfishly volunteering to pad their resume or to get their kid on a team
  • Where board members say they will raise money or plan an event, but they don’t actually do it
  • Where everybody is too ‘nice’ and nothing ever gets done

So how do you want to approach your next non-profit board meeting?

You can start by asking the following questions.

  • Where are we now?
  • Where do we want to go?
  • How are we going to get there?

To help you answer these questions I have put together the following list of 10 suggestions that will help you make your next Board Meeting even more effective (and if you have anything to add to this list please get in touch at g[email protected])

Where are we now?

1. Rank The Performance Of  Your Current Non-Profit Board Meeting

One of the best ways to rank your current non-profit board meeting performance is to use the following list to determine a number on a scale of 1-10.

1-4/10 – Low Score

Meeting behaviours include;

  • Low trust
  • Open conflict
  • No agenda
  • People are late
  • Too much talking about personal issues
  • Checking phones during meeting
  • Bad language
  • People don’t follow through on commitments
  • Very little gets done

5-8/10 – Average Score

Meeting behaviours include;

  • Basic level of trust
  • Well organized with a proper agenda
  • Everybody is nice
  • There may be some conflicts but nobody talks about it
  • Output of meeting produces average results

9-10/10 – Outstanding Score

Meeting behaviours include;

  • High level of trust
  • Healthy conflicts that lead to outstanding solutions
  • Confident leader/facilitator
  • Innovative ideas are shared
  • People encourage each other
  • People laugh out loud
  • Everybody contributes (even the ‘Quiet’ people)
  • People can’t wait for the next meeting
  • What happens in these meetings helps the organization rapidly achieve its goals

Once you determine your current score (___/10) then you can move on to the next question.

Where Do We Want To Go?

2. Decide What Board Meeting Performance Level You Want

So now that you know your current score you can use the same list to determine what you want your future non-profit meeting performance score to be (___/10). Once you determine this you can begin to answer the next question.

How Are We Going To Get There?

There are many ways to improve the performance of your next non-profit board meeting. Here are a few of my favourites.

3. Some People Gotta Grow & Some People Gotta Go

We all understand that having the right people on your team is one of the best ways to succeed. So why do non-profit boards often struggle with this issue?

  • Desperation – They are often so desperate to get volunteers that they recruit board members who aren’t a good fit and can’t help the organization achieve its goals
  • No Limits – How long should someone be a board member? If the governance structure doesn’t set limits you can end up with long-serving board members who inevitably get involved in issues that are not board related

So what can you do about it?

  • Some People Gotta Grow – Some of the volunteers you have on your current board only need a little bit of guidance to become awesome board members. Don’t wait to do something about this! Creating and executing a growth plan for each board member will; deepen their commitment to your organization; help you recruit new board members more easily because they’ll hear about how much your current board members are learning, growing and contributing.
  • Some People Gotta Go – We all understand this. So stop being so nice and find a way to respectfully help your poor performing board members to exit. Because if you don’t get rid of the dead wood, then your high performing board members may become frustrated and quit, and you’ll continue to have unproductive board meetings.

4. Be Realistic

  • You would never expect a college football team to win the Superbowl
  • You wouldn’t ask your eight year-old child to drive your car

So if you’re current non-profit board can’t achieve your organizational goals then it’s time to bring in outside help. For example, if you’re current volunteers don’t have the marketing ability or contacts to raise millions of dollars then you could hire a professional fundraiser. If they don’t have the know-how to build a strategic plan then bring in a Management Consultant. Regardless of what you are trying to do you should always have the right people in place to achieve your goals.

5. Listen & Be Heard

The most interesting people are those who are interested. So here are a few techniques that will help your volunteer board members to listen and be heard more effectively at your next meeting:

  • Talk Less
  • Repeat what you heard – After somebody finishes speaking you can summarize what they’ve said by briefly repeating back what you’ve heard to show that you truly understood what they said
  • Use their name To really deepen the connection with your fellow board members, say their name after you repeat what they’ve said. Because the sweetest sound in the world that everyone loves to hear is their name
  • Acknowledge the ‘Quiet’ people – So often it is the ‘Talkers’ who dominate board meetings. So make sure that that you find a way for the ‘Quiet’ volunteers to be heard during each board meeting

6. Learn How To Fight

If you want to get things done you have to be able to disagree in a productive way and move on. But it is often the case that non-profit volunteers don’t know how to fight effectively and their board meetings get bogged down. So here are a few suggestions to help you learn how to fight well during your next meeting:

  • Figure out ‘why’ it’s worth disagreeing – For example, if you are dealing with an important issue it may be critical to hear all points of view so that you can make the most effective decision. If you understand this in advance then you can warn everyone that this discussion may get heated but that will be because people passionately believe in their point of view. This type of preparation will help you build the right level of trust in the meeting to allow everyone to feel free to fully express themselves.
  • Develop a ‘fight’ guideline – For example you may all agree that in order to fight effectively you will; have one person talk at a time; stop the discussion if it gets personal; step out of the room if someone gets angry; ensure that once a decision is made that you and the entire board of directors supports it and so on.
  • Acknowledge the benefits of fighting well – For example, if people know they can speak their mind then there is a good chance that some of your most innovative ideas will get expressed during your board meetings.

7. Budget for Board Meeting Success

Getting better takes time and effort. Setting aside the necessary time, resources and money to improve your non-profit board meetings is one of the best investments you can make in overall performance. If you don’t do this then you can expect more of the same from your next non-profit board meeting.

8. Celebrate

Many non-profit boards work hard at fixing things and then they forget to celebrate their success. So if you’re going to put the effort into making your board meetings more effective then here are a few suggestions about how you can celebrate your achievements.

  • Start by asking your volunteers for suggestions about how to celebrate
  • Have a potluck meal at your next meeting
  • The meeting leader can send hand written thank-you cards to each volunteer
  • Recognize the entire board through the newsletter
  • Hold an off-site event like paintball, bowling or golf
  • Praise the board on social media including Twitter, Facebook, Pintrest, LinkedIn, Google + and more
  • Get a group portrait of the board done and put it on the meeting room wall
  • Have someone who benefits from the work of the non-profit write a testimonial letter and then read it out loud at a board meeting

9. Get Awesome Resources

There are a ton of great resources to help you improve your non-profit board meeting performance. Here are a few to get you started.

When ‘Some People Gotta Go’

For Fighting Productively

To Learn How To Celebrate

Online Course

Local and Regional Resources

Check your  local State, Provincial or Municipal resources – For example:

10. Take Action!

If you want your next non-profit board meeting to be more effective then you have to take action now.

You can start by answering these key questions.

  • Where are we now?
  • Where do we want to go?
  • How are we going to get there?

Then you can use one, two or all of the following suggestions.

  1. Rank The Performance Of Your Current Non-Profit Board Meeting
  2. Decide what Board Meeting Performance Level You Want
  3. Some People Gotta Grow & Some People Gotta Go
  4. Be Realistic
  5. Listen And Be Heard
  6. Learn How To Fight
  7. Budget For Board Meeting Success
  8. Celebrate
  9. Get Awesome Resources
  10. Take Action!

According to the National Center for Charitable Statistics, Public Charities in the United States reported having more than $1.65 trillion in revenues in 2012.” . If that much money is being spent on non-profits in the United States every year, can you imagine how much is being spent around the world? How much more effective would that revenue be if all non-profits optimized their board meetings?

Do you know how much money and time is being spent on your non-profit board meetings? What would happen if you if you made every one of those meetings awesome?

About the Author


  • Elizabeth Kuhnel September 1, 2015 at 6:16 pm

    Great article Gord. I can think of some non-profits that would benefit from reading this. I didn’t realize that you had changed careers. I am sure you are very good at meeting faciltation. Send me your contact information as I may have some meetings coming up where I could use a good facililator.

  • larry reese September 3, 2015 at 10:39 pm

    I very much enjoyed reading about creating awesome non-profit board meetings. Having worked with Gordon over a number of years on numerous television projects with the Motion Picture Arts Program at RDC, I can attest to the positive and well organized attributes of Gordon Sheppard. I am a big fan of this man and his talents. It’s typical of my experience with Gord reading about how to organize productive meetings and celebrating the positive outcomes. Gord is a man of action and encouragement and supported me when I’d go out on a limb. But he wasn’t just another “rah-rah/group hug” guy. I trusted Gord to be insightful and to critique my efforts in a constructive manner and I must say he never let me down.

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