No More Rubber-Stamping Board Meetings!

By Julia Riseman, Mentor, JCamp 180

This month I've enjoyed sitting in on a number of Camp Board meetings, but I noticed something disturbing yet rather familiar. A handful of Board members seemed tired from working harder than the others, and they did most of the talking. What did they have in common? They were all members of the Executive Committee.

Everyone wants the Board meetings to be well run and to have agenda items that have been thoughtfully considered before being presented to the whole Board. But the desire to do things right can have a curious result -- true decision-making gets consolidated among a small group of Board Members - often among members of the Executive Committee.

If your Board meetings are simply rubber-stamping the decisions of the Executive Committee or Camp leadership, then Board meetings become really boring! And worse, they become a waste of everyone's time. The Executive Committee spends valuable hours meeting before Board meetings to discuss issues in-depth, but often merely report the results to the full Board. This well-intentioned process leaves the other Board members with nothing significant to add.

If you feel your Board meetings have become little more than a rubber-stamp, then raise questions about where the power to make critical decisions lies, and re-read your Camp's by-laws. Even Camp Committees and Advisory Boards should have a written agreement about its governance structures and the power and authority the Board/Committee is granted. It is important to reflect from time to time on how your Camp Board is using, or misusing, its Executive Committee.

Wonder what role the Executive Committee should play? Here is an overview of the functions of non-profit Executive Committees:

The Board defines and grants Executive Committee authority. These powers can range from extremely limited, such as only meeting to address urgent matters between Board meetings, to very significant power to perform the Board's work through regularly scheduled meetings between Board meetings. Empowered Executive Committees are more typical on large Boards whose members are geographically dispersed. Some By-Laws grant the Executive Committee no formal authority at all.

The Executive Committee is typically composed of the Board President, Vice President, Secretary, and the chairs of the Board's committees on Finance, Governance, and Fundraising. The organization's Executive Director is often included as a non-voting member as well. Check your by-laws to see if membership of the Executive Committee is defined.

The Executive Committee provides a mechanism for board leaders to engage --within the limits set by Board policy and the bylaws -- in decision-making, oversight, and communication on important organizational matters.

Responsibilities -- The Executive Committee's specific responsibilities may include:

1. Exercising some or all powers of the Board between regularly scheduled meetings, as defined by the Board's by-laws.

2. Serving as a sounding board for management on emerging issues, problems, and initiatives.

3. Reporting to the Board at the Board's next meeting on any official actions it has taken.

4. Some Executive Committees are also tasked with conducting the annual Executive Director evaluation and compensation review. Other Boards give this responsibility to a working group.

5. Some Executive Committees also have all the responsibility for governance if there is no Governance Committee in place. This may include the recruitment, nominating, and orientation of new Board members.

For more help in defining your Camp's Executive Committee or to improve your Board Meetings, please contact your JCamp 180 Mentor who can help.

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Here are some other tips for improving the quality of your Board meetings:

1. Prepare. Share reports a week in advance so time in meetings can be spent on discussion, not reporting the content of committee reports.

2. Use a "Consent Agenda" for items that need the Board's review and approval but don't require discussion.

3. Arrive early. Meetings that start on time are more focused. The same goes for Board Conference Calls - call-in early and start on time.

4. Get down to business. The socializing stops when the meeting starts. Be business-like and respect the agenda. Board meetings that are well run, productive, effective, respectful of people's time, AND conduct important business are not boring!

5. Make new friends. Greet Board members you don't know very well, and get to know them better. Strengthen your working relationship by building stronger connections. Some Boards set up a Buddy system to connect new Board members to current members.

6. Add a D'vor Torah to the start of your meetings to focus your minds and spirits to the work ahead.

7. Evaluate. Insist that the Board undertake a self-evaluation each year. Listen to the feedback, and strive to make improvements each year. Highly effective Boards focus on being their best. Your JCamp 180 Mentor can help you establish a Board self-evaluation.