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Serving on nonprofit boards can help increase your profile in your profession and is a goal you should add to your career path plans. Don't worry about having to reinvent the wheel to run a nonprofit board meeting correctly; most organizations mandate the specific method a chairperson must use to conduct a board meeting and provide a copy of the rules to follow during the meeting. By the time you become the president of a nonprofit, you will have attended numerous board meetings and learned how to run one yourself.
Your organization most likely has bylaws that include directions for running meetings. Read the bylaws, often available on the group's website or from its secretary, to determine if they include directions for meetings. The bylaws might require you to use a proprietary meeting system it has created or one such as Robert’s Rules of Orders, which is the most common method boards use. Bylaws set the quorum for a meeting, which is a minimum number of voting board members who must be present for binding votes to be taken. For example, a board with seven members might require a majority of board members, or at least four, to be present to constitute an official meeting.
Robert’s Rules of Orders
You might already be familiar with Robert’s Rules of Orders if you ever have attended a meeting for your town council, church group or a nonprofit organization. The system helps move meetings through the introduction to the adjournment. Robert’s Rules of Orders sets specific methods for making a motion, handling discussions, amending a motion and calling a vote. The official rules are available on the Robert’s Rules of Orders website for review. While some organizations might not mandate the use of Robert's Rules in their bylaws and instead run a more informal meeting, most follow an organized agenda and use some of the basics of Robert's Rules for taking votes. If the organization uses another system, ask the secretary for a copy of those rules and study them before your meeting.
Book the location for the meeting and send an announcement via email to your board with the date, time and location of the upcoming meeting, attaching the minutes from the last meeting. Ask who is coming to determine if you will have a quorum and give a deadline by which they must respond. Ask everyone to read the minutes from the last board meeting, which will be voted on for approval at the next meeting. Ask board members who cannot attend the next meeting to submit any comments they have on the minutes. Request that any reports needing printing and distribution, such as a treasurer’s report, be sent to you early enough to make copies.
Use a copy of the last board meeting’s minutes to begin preparing for an upcoming board meeting. The minutes might include action items board members were supposed to have taken before the next board meeting. Print copies of any documents submitted by committee or board members to distribute to the board. Have a copy of the organization’s mission statement, bylaws, past meetings minutes and Robert’s Rules of Orders available to help answer any questions that might arise. Plan refreshments if the meeting will last for two or more hours.
Using an Agenda
Nonprofit board meetings use an agenda, which is an outline of the contents of the meeting. Create one with a call to order, introduction of guests, president’s and treasurer’s reports, approval of past minutes, committee reports, new business, old business and adjournment. Your secretary should take detailed minutes of your meeting; if the secretary will not be there, determine who will take the minutes. Having several years’ worth of previous meetings minutes will help you determine if a previous board already has set policies you are considering, or discussed and rejected them.
Follow your organization's rules for taking board votes to make sure they are not overturned later. Robert's Rules of Order, for example, requires a board member to make a motion, another board member to second the motion, the president to ask for discussion, then the president to call the vote. The president asks who is in favor of the motion, who is against it and who abstains, announces whether the vote has passed and asks the secretary to record the vote. If no member seconds a motion, there is no discussion of it or vote.
Sam Ashe-Edmunds has been writing and lecturing for decades. He has worked in the corporate and nonprofit arenas as a C-Suite executive, serving on several nonprofit boards. He is an internationally traveled sport science writer and lecturer. He has been published in print publications such as Entrepreneur, Tennis, SI for Kids, Chicago Tribune, Sacramento Bee, and on websites such Smart-Healthy-Living.net, SmartyCents and Youthletic. Edmunds has a bachelor's degree in journalism.