What’s your board accomplishing this year?

I was just talking to a board chair who was lamenting the lack of attendance at board meetings and general lack of engagement overall.

One of the conditions I always query for is whether the board has any clear objectives for what it plans to accomplish over the coming year (or longer).

Board meetings are not in and of themselves meaningful work. I’ve attended a lot of meetings where I’ve left thinking “really, did they need me here for that!” Usually all I did was listen to reports where there was no action required. And any decisions before us were pretty inconsequential and didn’t really rise to the level of board work. A year of meetings like that and I’d be surprised if you had any attendance at all.

Every board can benefit from a set of annual objectives. I’d put the usual suspects on that list:

  • providing performance feedback to your Executive Director
  • setting with your Executive Director his or her goals and objectives for the coming year
  • reviewing and approving the audit and other critical monitoring of the health of the organization
  • recruiting and electing a high quality board

All of these are important fiduciary obligations of any board.

But what is the added value, the real difference that your board will make?I’m not talking about the volunteer contributions of individual board members, but the collective entity that is The Board (that corporate entity that sits around the table at a board meeting).

If you’re at a loss for value based objectives, try framing your board work around these questions:

  • What questions about our organization’s future and its societal impact must we answer this year?
  • How will we demonstrate our accountability to the community in whose interests we are acting?
  • To whom are we accountable now? Is that whom we should be accountable to?
  • How do we know that our organization is really making a difference?
  • What will truly shift the landscape for the problems we address?
  • What might we imagine on the horizon that we should already be preparing for?
  • What is our ideal relationship with other community partners? What do they want from us? How do we know? What are we prepared to do?
  • Do we have a clear definition of organizational health? Are we sufficiently resilient?

In our Toolbox, you’ll find a sample Board Meeting Plan and a sample set of Board Objectives to help jumpstart your thinking.

Even better, who about devoting a major agenda item at your next meeting to answer these questions: What must the board accomplish this year? What value must this board bring to our organization?

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