Great Meetings

5 Things To Do Before Conducting Your First Non-Profit Meeting

Congratulations. You’ve made it this far. You’ve set your sights on a purpose, thought up a name and finally incorporated your non-profit organization. The hard work is done; now, the really hard work begins.

Whether your non-profit is a charity, an artistic or scientific endeavor, a sports club or event or even a pension or retirement fund, the journey so far has likely involved a lot of coffee meetings, Zoom calls and brainstorms over drinks. However, now it’s time for your first official meeting. While the main participants may remain the same, it’s time to up the ante, as official meetings will need to tick certain legal boxes and cover topics about the organization’s future.

Your first meeting will set the tone for how you continue and so you must get this meeting right. Fortunately, there’s a lot that can be prepared before the meeting to ensure that it runs smoother than a fresh jar of peanut butter on the day. 

  1. Create and circulate a thorough agenda for the meeting.
  2. Make sure that the necessary participants are invited in time and can all attend.
  3. Assign a facilitator for the meeting.
  4. State expectations and guidelines for the meeting.
  5. Send out and pre-reads in plenty of time.

Let’s take a look at each of these in more detail and, hopefully, you’ll pick up a few hints, tips, tricks and general meeting magic along the way.

1: The art of the agenda

All enduring structures require strong foundations and the agenda is the foundation on which great meetings are built. Two-thirds of professionals state that a clear agenda is vital for effective meetings. To start, list any mandatory items in a logical order. As a new non-profit, there may well be some legal requirements that need covering if you’ve not done so already:

  • Appointing the board
  • Electing officers, such as President, Secretary and Treasurer
  • Appointing committees and members
  • Applying for tax exemption
  • Opening bank accounts
  • Creating a code of conduct and other internal policies

Once the compulsory items have been included, it’s really up to you what other items to include on the list. However, the best agendas tend to be both succinct and specific. “Give an update on fundraising” is too vague and opens up the opportunity for participants to raise all manner of tangential items. However, an agenda that says “Provide latest fundraising total and forecast for next four weeks” is clear-cut and keeps extraneous points to a minimum.

It’s easy to overestimate the decision-making capabilities of a group in which different people, opinions and decision-making styles must converge to come up with a solution. A good agenda will have only one or two decision items and provide A/B options rather than open-ended questions. 

2: Who should participate?

Deciding who to invite to your meetings, especially one as significant as your first official non-profit meeting, is like walking a high wire. If you go too far in either direction, it’s sure to result in disaster. Our 2019 report, The State of Meetings, revealed that 35 percent of people believe that not having too many participants is vital to an effective meeting. However, respondents also identified the lack of relevant decision-makers as one of their biggest meeting frustrations. 

If you’ve already named directors, then they, of course, should be present, as well as appointees or candidates for officer positions. The rest of the invitees should be based on the agenda. Only those necessary to represent or further the agenda should attend.

One frustration for non-profits is that all the relevant members, initially at least, are likely to be volunteers and communication will be via personal or a variety of work email addresses. This makes scheduling a non-profit nightmare as the person organizing the meeting has no insight into everyone’s availability. As a volunteer-led organization, available meeting times are also likely to be extremely limited. 

Opting for an online scheduling tool can save hours of work, which is even more critical when people are giving their time for free. Doodle, for example, allows you to send out a group meeting (poll) that will find the most convenient time slot for the meeting, making the scheduling process much faster and less frustrating than the game of email tennis that typically ensues to find a time and date that suits all parties.

3: Time to assign a facilitator

Just as each person within your non-profit organization will have a specific role and set of responsibilities, particular duties must be assigned before convening for the first time. A good facilitator will keep your meeting on track, they’ll make sure that all attendees participate and have their say, and they’ll ultimately ensure that no single person dominates proceedings. Any meeting’s goal should always be to come away with opinions, decisions, and results superior to those that any single member of your organization could produce alone. The facilitator has that in mind throughout.

In many non-profits, the chair of the board takes this role, although there’s no reason why that has to be the case. Just make sure you choose someone organized, fair, and respected; someone who can maintain enthusiasm while not allowing participants to become distracted by issues that are not pertinent to the agenda. Ideally, the facilitator will also hold responsibility for sending out the agenda for future meetings too.

4: Set out your stall 

From people who refuse to listen to others and continually interrupt, to those who always arrive late or need to leave early, we’ve discovered that we all have our pet peeves when it comes to meetings. Your first meeting is a chance to lay out the terms of participation and the expectations you demand from all participants. Lay these out, make them easy to understand, have everyone read them and confirm they’ve read them before your first meeting. 

Here are some examples of meeting rules and terms you can set:

  • Everyone should arrive five minutes before the meeting begins and stay till five minutes beyond the scheduled end time.
  • No phones, laptops or tablets should be used except for taking minutes or providing presentations.
  • All devices should be set to mute.
  • No interruptions – all opinions are valid.
  • A maximum of five subjects to be discussed and two decisions to be made per meeting.
  • The invite list will be revisited each meeting to make sure only those necessary are invited.

It may make you sound like a power-starved principal, but you’ll be grateful that you established the ground rules early. Once participants become used to meetings being disorderly, it’s tough to push back the tide. You certainly don’t want that to happen.

5: Reading gets done before the meeting

We’ve all sat in meetings where at least one person, usually the most senior person in the room, has to spend ten minutes reading through the document that the meeting is about before conversation can commence. It’s incredibly frustrating for all involved while also being highly-inefficient and unlikely to result in good decisions.

If you have any document — financial reports, recent industry trends, white papers, news articles, business plans — that’s likely to be central to your meeting, it should be shared with participants at least a week ahead of the meeting. This gives everyone time to assimilate and consider the information, making for a more informed, productive discussion and faster resolutions during the meeting itself.

Ideally, the same applies to presentations. If the head of fundraising has a new campaign proposal, their presentation can be shared beforehand. Make meetings about clarification, discussion and decision making, not passing on reams of content.

So, there you have it. Work your way through these five action items before your first meeting and we guarantee you that it’ll be better than pretty much any other meeting your participants have attended that week. When it comes to meetings, a little preparation goes a long way. And in the nonprofit world, where budgets and time are both stretched especially thin, that groundwork goes even further. Good luck. 

To learn how Doodle can simplify, automate and speed up your scheduling process (so you can focus on the business of your non-profit), visit our Non-Profits Solutions page.

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