Read our seven top tips on how your charity board can get the most out of its meetings.
Many charity boards come together for formal board meetings only four to six times a year and yet trustees have overall responsibility for the charity, including ensuring that the charity operates within its objects, acts for the public benefit, and complies with all relevant legislation. This requires careful planning to ensure that the limited time that trustees spend together is used effectively, allowing time for discussion and constructive challenge, but also sufficient time to find consensus and work together productively.
The second module of our free online trustee training tackles the challenging topic of board dynamics with a case study of a fictional trustee board with differing views and personalities, which has to work together effectively to avoid a financial crisis. You may have your own experiences of how challenging it can be to make decisions as a team and to make the most out of limited meeting opportunities.
Here are our top tips:
- Make your meetings inclusive so that everyone’s voice is heard - Board decisions should be informed by a balance of skills, experience, backgrounds, and knowledge. It is important that board meetings are inclusive to enable all trustees to contribute to decision-making and demonstrate the charity’s commitment to inclusive values and culture.
- Focus on key areas for discussion and board decisions - A well-planned, timed agenda focuses on key areas that require a board decision or discussion. If a lot of board time is spent on updates, consider asking managers to send out information packs in between meetings to keep trustees informed. You can also develop an annual work programme for the board to provide a helpful structure for your meetings and consider the use of sub-committees to give more time to critical areas such as finance.
- Ask for well-designed board papers - Board papers should be circulated and read before meetings and designed to make it easy for trustees to access the information needed for each agenda item. Use KPIs, traffic light systems, graphs and charts so that critical information can be digested quickly, and to make complex information more accessible.
- Don’t neglect hygiene factors - Reflect on when, where, and how meetings are held, so that meetings are inclusive. Schedule breaks during longer board meetings to keep everyone engaged and to give trustees the opportunity to connect socially over a cup of tea. Don’t forget to adopt meeting protocols to prevent and tackle disruptive or inappropriate behaviours.
- Appoint an effective Chair - The Chair’s role is crucial to make meetings effective and to create an open and inclusive culture. A good Chair listens to the views of all other trustees, moves the conversation on when needed and summarises points made by other trustees. They ensure that all trustees at the meeting understand the agreements reached as a group and that everyone had the opportunity to contribute their thoughts.
- Reflect on the board’s performance regularly - Smaller charities may not have the resources to seek external support for a board appraisal, but they should have a process for evaluating the board’s performance, for example by reflecting on the board’s skill gaps and the Chair’s performance. A simple way to start is to take a couple of minutes at the end of each board meeting to ask: What went well, and what didn’t go so well, and how can the meeting be more effective next time?
- Take note of our additional tips for virtual or hybrid meetings - Be sure to check the charity’s governing document to ensure decisions can be made in virtual meetings and don’t assume that everyone is familiar with virtual platforms. Explain the expected etiquette and the technical features that allow trustees to participate effectively. In hybrid meetings, the Chair should pause at the end of each agenda item and invite remote attendees to share their thoughts as it can be difficult to join into discussions remotely.
If you would like to find out more about board dynamics, you can access the ICAEW trustee training here free of charge and gain an ICAEW certificate upon successful completion of the multiple-choice assessment.
The training is free for all and designed for all trustees (not just accountants!), so why not include it as part of your induction programme for new trustees joining the board?