Q: This year I’m vice president of a small association board and we are looking to slim down our 3-hour meetings and get focused. I read your recent post about strategic agendas with great interest. But when I look at the format your shared, I wonder where the business goes? For instance, when we have to vote on the budget, or have an issue with member engagement, where would we handle that?
A: Great question! In the examples you gave, the budget might be handled in either of two places. The first is in the consent portion of the agenda. While that presumes a decision based on a simple up or down vote, you can do a couple of things to instill confidence in your board directors that the budget has been sufficiently vetted to warrant a vote by acclamation. The committee charged with evaluating the budget can send a report to the rest of the board ahead of the meeting that details things like how it aligns with the mission, vision, and organizational values, what variances might be expected if the budget is adopted, what kinds of questions the committee delved into, and how it satisfied itself as to the value of the budget. (Click here for a report template that can be used by any committee. This can be adapted specifically for the budget and you can include one or more dashboards to demonstrate the efficacy of the recommended budget.) The board directors can also be encouraged to ask questions and get answers ahead of the meeting. If you use a board portal or a private discussion list for your board, it’s easy to facilitate an inclusive interaction. And remember, if someone wants to take an item off the consent agenda, s/he can always request that, triggering a discussion by the full board.
On the other hand, this discussion can easily go under the strategic initiatives section because what the board should be discussing when talking about the budget is whether it is allocating the needed money toward the organization’s strategic initiatives. Merely placing the discussion in this section helps ensure it remains appropriately targeted and doesn’t drift into the all-to-common discussion of topics such as the increased cost of paper clips.
As to lack of member engagement, in my mind this is clearly a matter to be discussed in the initial section of the agenda. After all, you are a membership association. Your reason for existing is to meet your members’ needs; and, if they are not engaged, chances are you are not achieving your goal. But, here, too, the discussion – at least the initial discussion – around this issue might be held in committee. If it were a board committee, it would be ideal to include association members as a part of the committee to ensure their voice is heard. But, you could also appoint an advisory committee made up solely of association members and task it with solving this problem.
All this being said, there is no “right” or “wrong” way of doing anything in our sector – including agenda setting. If you need a “New Business” section, put one in. I just have found this technique keeps people focused on what they joined a board to do in the first place – have a say in making a difference.