One Fantastic Board Meeting to Focus Board Committees

By Julia Riseman, Mentor, JCamp 180

"Fantastic Meeting! A really productive use of our time together, thank you."

How often do you hear those words at the end of a Board meeting? 

That was the spontaneous evaluation from Camp Gilboa Board members at the end of their Board planning meeting this past weekend.  I'm going to share with you all their agenda and materials for this planning retreat so you might replicate it with your Board.

Camp Gilboa's Board has faced a number of huge challenges.  It is a small Habonim Dror Movement Camp located in Southern California.  Less than 5 years ago they struggled with growing camp much beyond 100 campers, they didn't fundraise more than a few thousand dollars, and their Governance structure was outdated and populated with the same faces year after year after year. 

Now it's a totally different story: they've raised over $1.5M towards their own gorgeous camp property in Big Bear, CA; camp enrollment is growing by leaps and bounds; and the Bylaws have been rewritten so that their Governance structure now conforms to non-profit best practices. 

But with changes came confusion.  There was a general lack of clarity about roles and responsibilities.  Some of the questions were:

  • What is the role of the Executive Director vs. the responsibility of the Board?
  • What is the function of the old Camp Committee now?
  • How would the whole Board know if Board committees are working without a lot of Board time spent on endless reporting?

Honestly, I don't know any non-profit Board that doesn't face these questions from time to time.

Here's how the Camp Gilboa Board answered all these questions and set clear goals with just a *few hours of planning time together:

1. Strengths and Challenges: Prior to the Board's planning meeting, they had a discussion at a Board meeting of the Board's current Strengths and Challenges and identified needs.

2. Boiler Plate Committee Responsibilities and Tasks for the coming year: I provided the Board with standard non-profit Board Committee job descriptions for each of their Board Committees - with suggested tasks for the coming year.

3. Governance vs. Management: The Board started with a short discussion reviewing the overall responsibilities of Board vs. Management.

4. Small Group Discussions: The Board broke into equal sized small groups with one group for each Board Committee. These small groups reviewed a Committee "Job description" and the list of suggested tasks for the year.  They were required to update, edit, or add to it for their own purpose.

5. Agree upon "what, who and when":  The small groups then agreed upon the committee's tasks for the coming year and who on the committee would be responsible for taking the lead. They also started to identify deadlines for these tasks.

6. Top 3 Priorities: To finish, each small group agreed upon the committee's top 3 priorities for the year and this was reported back to the whole board. These were written on a large white board, and the Board noted connections and overlap among some goals and noted that some committees might need to work together - such as Governance Committee and Executive Committee working together on succession planning.

7. Board-wide Goals for 2014:  After each small group reported on the Committee's top three priorities, the whole Board reviewed the collective work of the Board.  The Board then brainstormed and defined the Board's top 3 meta-goals for the coming year as distinct from committee goals. 

8. What will be different?: The Board discussed what will be different by the end of the year should it accomplish all of its goals for 2014.  They were very specific about defining these expected outcomes - which included such things as "Less time will be spent on reporting at Board meetings and more time will be spent on strategic discussions."

9. One Page Summary: All these committee and Board-wide goals together with expected outcomes for the year were summarized on one page. The Board will now use this document throughout the year to monitor its own progress towards its goals.


*Note: Board members agreed that the 5 ½ hours were well spent…and that the retreat atmosphere, away from distractions, and with good food and plenty of coffee were helpful, too!

If you would like to try replicating this process for your Board, please let us know. JCamp 180 Mentors are available to help facilitate Board Goal Setting Meetings such as this for your Board or Camp Committee.

Here are a number of resources you can use at your camp: