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Is it time for a board meeting makeover? Consider consent agenda

By Alyce Lee Stansbury, CFRE, Notes on Nonprofits

Over the past 30 years, I have participated in thousands of board meetings including the good, the bad, and the ugly. Ineffective board meetings are one of the fastest ways to lose directors who are there to make a difference and do not want to waste their time with long, rambling discussions that don’t advance the organization’s goals.

If your board struggles to meet quorum, meetings routinely run longer than planned, board members consistently arrive late or leave early, or directors are quitting before the end of their first year, it may be time for a board meeting makeover.

One of the first strategies I recommend is a consent agenda. Here’s how it works.

What is a consent agenda?

A consent agenda refers to individual agenda items that are bundled together into a single action item. I am a big fan of the consent agenda because it streamlines the meeting and provides more time for discussion on substantive issues.

What to include

Consent agenda items are routine, procedural and non-controversial items that do not require discussion or action by the board. Examples include board and committee meeting minutes; staff or committee reports; financial reports; routine revisions to polices such as dates and contact information; contracts that fall within the organization’s policy guidelines; and dates of future meetings.

A vote on the single motion applies to all items on the consent agenda. It’s a beautiful thing and can save considerable meeting time.

Send agenda items in advance

Items on the consent agenda should be sent to directors prior to the meeting so they have adequate time to review them in advance. If directors have any questions, they can be asked in advance as needed.

Items can be removed

As the first item of business, the chair should ask if anyone wishes to remove an item from the consent agenda. The chair then asks for a motion to accept the remainder of the consent agenda. Once the motion has been received, the chair opens the floor for any quick points or questions before asking for a second and calling for a vote.

The chair may determine where on the agenda the item that has been removed will be discussed. Most often, this is immediately after the consent agenda has been approved.

But don’t defeat the purpose

If someone has a simple question or wishes to discuss the item further, discussion is permitted after the motion for approval is made but before the vote. It may take a few meetings for board members to become familiar and comfortable with the process.  Just keep in mind a lengthy discussion defeats the purpose of the consent agenda.

How to get started

Discuss this concept with directors and answer any questions. Additional information is available from Board Source and the National Council of Nonprofits. When ready, directors should approve a motion to adopt the consent agenda for its meetings.

Share your questions and challenges

If your board is struggling with ineffective meetings, high board turnover, or a lack of engagement, please reach out with your questions. This column is a forum for you to get ideas, information, and inspiration to make meetings productive and board service a meaningful experience. Please send your questions and feedback to [email protected].

Notes on Nonprofits is a column in the Tallahassee Democrat produced by Alyce Lee Stansbury, CFRE, President of Stansbury Consulting, and includes resources, responses to reader questions, guest columns, and timeless topics. This column first appeared on Sunday, October 2, 2022. Please send your comments and questions.

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