A meeting menu from the board chair

I was trolling through some old files today when I came upon this 2007 memo:


TO:                 Board of Directors

FROM:           Gayle L. Gifford, Chair

RE:                  Board Meeting

Thank you to A…  for graciously sharing his home for what promises to be a delectable board meeting.

The meeting postprandial will be a lively humanities conversation with our special guest, Christopher Lydon, former host of WBUR’s The Connection and Radio Open Source, now live from the Watson Institute at Brown U. Chris is very eager to learn more about our Council and connect with board members. Personally, I can’t wait to pump him for his vast experience in “curating [humanities] conversations” over the airwaves and now in cyberspace.

Of course, before we can get to Chris and refreshments, we’ve got a board meeting to devour.

  • Our main course is a discussion, feedback and approval of the goals and programming direction for FY 2008 which RKA, our Executive Director, will be presenting followed by approval of a working budget for FY 2008 that reflects those priorities and outcomes. (Alas, it remains a working budget until Congress finalizes the budget).
  • Side dishes include a proposed bylaws change on the residency requirement for Board members and feedback from the Governance Committee on Board self-assessments.
  • Of course, no meeting would be complete without THE CONSENT AGENDA which includes the thoughtful recommendation of grant awards from the Grants Committee, receipt of staff and board committee reports, and final approval of the FY 2008 Board & Board Committee Objectives.

Please arrive so that we can start on time (no excuses, we are back in Providence!) and preserve ample time to savor the planned conversations.

Bon Appétit


Okay, so the memo may be a little cutesy.

But the reason I wanted to share this with you is that I think it is good practice for the board chair to frame the upcoming meeting for the board. This memo was sent out in advance along with the packet of materials for that upcoming meeting.

My memo also illustrates some of the practices that make for a better board meeting:

  • Use of the consent agenda to quickly dispose of noncontroversial items, items where the authority for action has been delegated to a committee, or items discussed at a previous meeting that just need a final vote. Of course, any member can ask that an item be taken off the consent agenda for a more complete discussion.
  • Most of the meeting spent on a few substantive issues.
  • A conversation with someone really interesting from outside the organization but very relevant to the mission.
  • And what you can’t see in the memo,  good food and social time.

And a few practices that make for a better board and organization:

  • Clarity on goals and objectives for the coming year
  • A budget that reflects those priorities
  • Intentional board practice, including deployment of a governance committee, board self-evaluation, and learning from that feedback.

What does your board meeting look like?

3 responses to A meeting menu from the board chair

  1. Kirsten Bullock

    Thanks for these great thoughts Gayle. It might be a little cutesy, but appears to be very appropriate to the audience. I love concept of a consent agenda, but frequently get push-back when I suggest it. Any suggests for easing the transition to a consent agenda?

  2. Gayle Gifford

    Kirsten, It’s not always so easy, true. You do need a board chair who is willing to try a different approach – with guidance and even coaching at the meeting. And I find that sometimes the promise of a more interesting and rewarding meeting can act as a lure. And it does require getting material out far enough in advance of the meeting so that everyone has had a chance to look at the consent agenda items and even send questions to the committee chair or board chair about anything they don’t understand.
    I don’t introduce it right away. I start with other meeting changes like eliminating oral reports of past happenings to begin to prime the board for more changes ahead.

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