Preparing for your first board meeting

October 13, 2014

We all know those mornings where you just need to add that extra double shot to your coffee, some bonus drizzle, and maybe even doubling that whip cream–especially when it’s the day of your first board meeting. Entering a room of new faces for a board meeting can be scary for anyone, but there are some good ways to put your best foot forward–before you walk into the room.

Know when the meeting is well in advance.

This may seem like a logical point, but you need to know when the meeting is. In fact, you should schedule the next year’s worth of meetings. Don’t just count on yourself to remember five months from now that you have a commitment on the “second Monday of the month.” That’s hard to keep track of.

It’s understandable to miss a meeting if you have that special family vacation that only happens once a year; less so if you couldn’t attend because you accidentally double-booked yourself with a dental appointment.

Read all the material

Watch for an email containing a “board packet” of material from your Executive Director or Board President. It frequently includes an agenda, the minutes from the last meeting, monthly financial report, written committee reports, and draft policies or other action items. Read it early, especially if there might be a topic that you might be called up to discuss.

Eat. Use the Bathroom. 

This may seem silly, but it’s not a pleasant experience to sit through a board meeting on an empty stomach or the constant need to count the minutes until the restroom. Grab that snack ahead of time, and take well advantage of the facilities before hand.

Show up five minutes early.

And if you aren’t 100% sure where the meeting is, allocate an extra five minutes to find parking and the meeting room. Either way, you should be ready before the meeting begins.

Dress up…a bit.

Yes, board meetings for small nonprofits may not be formal affairs, but I would not recommend showing up in flip-flops. It may not be a paid position, but it is still considered “work.” Consider aiming for what other staff members are wearing, they can be a good model for the meeting. If you are really unsure–ask the board president.

Prepare a one or sentence summary of yourself.

You can almost certainly expect that you’ll have to introduce yourself. So plan ahead! Who are you, and why do you love the organization. Quick and easy.

After that, walk in and hold your head up high. You might be a newbie on the board, but you have an equal vote just like anyone else. And know that in just in a meeting or two, this will all feel very familiar.

Looking to know more about joining a nonprofit board? Check out my book, The Little Book of Boards: A Board Member’s Handbook for Small (and Very Small) Nonprofits, available for pre-order on Kindle.

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