How to Report to the Board of Directors

Comstock/Comstock/Getty Images

Reporting to the board of directors versus a single boss or even a couple of bosses can be challenging. You’re dealing with additional personalities, agendas and viewpoints. If you organize your data and thoughts using a short list of essentials as an outline, you’ll be well on your way to reporting to your board succinctly and professionally.

Board Report Design Made Easy

Even if you’re going to be reporting to the board of directors in person, prepare a written report. Writing it down will help you organize the information you want to relay. It will give board members something tangible to which they can refer and respond. It can also be sent to any board members who had to miss the meeting.

A written report will help guide your presentation. If you’re new on the job, you might look at a copy of a previous report to use as a guideline for your board report design. Templates for reports to boards are also available online. Your report should always contain the following:

  1. List of accomplishments since the last meeting
  2. List and status of current activities
  3. Reminders of upcoming events
  4. Recommendations

  5. Finances

Including these five essentials lends structure and consistency to your reporting. If you’re a new employee and you’re reporting to the board of directors for the first time, it’s OK to ask them what they’d like you to include in your reports. Asking does not expose your ignorance. It highlights your interest in doing a good job.

Things to Keep in Mind

It’s very important to know your board members’ backgrounds. It will help you understand from where they’re coming when they offer observations, advice and criticism. If one is a retired CFO, she will likely be inclined to focus on the numbers. If another is an entrepreneur, he might be more comfortable taking risks.

This is the point of having a board — to draw from a variety of backgrounds and expertise that can collectively set up an organization to succeed. Understanding your board members will also help you see that it’s not all about you. This is especially important if in the course of reporting to the board of directors, one member is critical of something on which you’re reporting.

For example, let’s say that under your list of accomplishments since the last meeting, you report that the new market you’ve entered or the innovative fundraiser that took place has not proven to be as lucrative as was hoped. Board members are people too. The retired CFO may not be able to resist an “I told you so” that’s meant for the entrepreneur, not you.

It's Better to Be Overprepared

People on boards are often busy folks. So, be sure to keep your reporting well organized and succinct. Try to keep it to one page with supplementary information like budget details on separate pages.

Board members may not be aware of a need unless you bring it to their attention, but when you ask for something, be ready with a well-supported argument for why it’s needed and how it will benefit the organization. Include a cost/benefit analysis.

Bringing needs and wants to the board’s attention is particularly important if you’re preparing an executive director report for a nonprofit organization. Chances are you’ll have more than one philanthropist on your board who might surprise you by saying, “I’ll take care of that.”

Horn Tooting and No Whining

Reporting to the board of directors is an excellent opportunity to let them know what you’ve been up to and how hard you’ve been working since the last meeting. Much of this will show in the first two sections of your report:

  1. List of accomplishments since the last meeting
  2. List and status of current activities

Don’t hesitate to include short descriptions of any difficulty you encountered while you were accomplishing things and, of course, how you surmounted the problem. Women sometimes have a harder time than men when it comes to tooting their own horn. Try channeling the most bombastic person you know but temper your delivery with some common sense so that you’re not obnoxious.

When reporting on unresolved difficulties, be prepared with a couple of suggestions for solutions. No one likes a whiner. If you simply report on negative things without offering a couple of possible solutions, it will sound like whining and complaining. Now, go get ‘em!