A board does critical work for their organization, yet many spend little time planning ahead. Sarah and I believe that every board should spend time each year planning for their work together. An organization’s staff does annual work planning, the board should too.
An annual plan outlines what a group wants to accomplish in the coming year and provides some helpful details to guide the work – such as what is needed, who is involved, and when things are happening.
The simplest board annual plan is an annual agenda. Many board duties are known annual events. Budgeting, recruiting, doing the annual fundraiser, or evaluating the ED should not be surprises. Even so, how many of your boards seem caught off guard by these tasks? An annual agenda can help.
An annual agenda is a document that lists the board meetings in the year and the known agenda items for those meetings.
Why start here? Every board is different but all are required to meet for official business and that business is organized by an agenda. It makes sense to have a basic outline for the year’s meetings.
Starting an annual agenda is simple. First, list the months that the board meets on a page or spreadsheet. Use a calendar year or your fiscal year, whatever makes the most sense. Then add deadlines for annual board work. Such as:
- annual filing approvals: 990, audit
- budget approval
- ED evaluation
- conflict of interest signing
- board assessment
- annual fundraisers (or other annual events)
Now you have an outline of the year. Once you have the major annual items documented, work backwards to identify any board agenda items that must happen before each.
For example, if your board approves the budget in November, what must the board discuss before the November meeting? If new board members are always elected in January, when should the board first talk about recruitment needs? Once you’ve decided, put these new agenda items in the appropriate board meetings.
Fleshing out the annual agenda is an excellent activity for the executive committee. It’s possible for the executive committee to identify many of the agenda items for the whole year. Clearly, not everything can be planned, and unexpected events will demand the attention of the board during the year, but having an annual agenda allows the executive committee to be thoughtful about how the board spends its valuable time. If a board can better organize the things they know they have to do, they can better manage everything else that comes up.
Once you have your annual agenda, include it in each board packet and revisit it regularly. You can use it to help the board and committees stay on track and to preview what is coming up for the board. With an outline of the year in hand, board members will gain a better sense of their roles and responsibilities and find it easier to engage with the work of the board.