Make Your Meetings Less Miserable

Posted in staff meeting / board meeting

Make Your Meetings Less Miserable

There is a kind of art to orchestrating a successful non-profit meeting. It is a delicate balance between the items on the agenda and the different personalities attending the meeting. How do you know if a meeting is successful or a failure?

Sobering reality.

The adrenaline rush of finishing a meeting on time feels great in the moment. As sometimes happens, a sobering reality sets in a couple of days later, and you feel like maybe some of the topics didn’t get the attention they deserved.

Looking back at the minutes from past meetings, you might notice some of the items that appeared on the agenda didn’t get recorded in the minutes because those items were skipped, or missed, or mishandled.

Fix the problem.

When a meeting isn’t quite coming together, there may be an unspoken expectation for an executive director to fix the problem. While an ED can’t make a meeting perfect, a little homework can help to root out the real problem and provide clues to a solution.

When faced with fixing a broken meeting, an executive director can start by talking to meeting attendees (board, staff, volunteers) and ask for their general comments. How are they feeling about the last few meetings? Was the meeting valuable? Do they feel heard? Do they feel rushed? Are they feeling like there is so much information that isn’t getting attention? Collecting answers will start to draw out the common themes – the common concerns – that need to be addressed.

After collecting a list of concerns, an executive director can conduct a deeper examination of meeting dynamics by looking at the attendees who hold official roles and responsibilities. Are key meeting leaders contributing as their job descriptions say they should? Is the chair actually chairing the meeting or relying on the group to self-monitor? Are attendees presenting lengthy last-minute reports that they are supposed to be providing well in advance?

Spending a little time gathering feedback and looking at possible issues, an executive director can begin to understand the weak spots and make a plan to address the concerns.

Meetings are fixable.

Unless there is nasty fighting and name-calling that might require external expertise, most meetings that aren’t quite working as well as they should, can be improved by addressing one of these areas:

  1. Tighten up the agenda. Remove items that don't need attention. Consider creating a meeting calendar for topics that need to be addressed at certain times of the year but can be confidently ignored for all the other meetings.
  2. Take more time. Perhaps instead of rushing through a 60-minute meeting once a month it might work better to try a 2-hour meeting every second month. If time between meetings leaves participants feeling out of the loop, a mid-month check-in might bridge the gap.
  3. Connect with the meeting chair. Review the job description for the meeting chair and determine if they are truly suited to fulfill the role. Some meeting chairs feel intimidated to facilitate a larger meeting. A frank discussion can determine if someone else is better suited to the job. Naturally, if the meeting chair is the board chair, the executive director will want to approach this conversation very carefully, and perhaps with some help.
  4. Create a priority order system. Develop a system to assign priority to all agenda items. Options include a system that orders agenda items within each section, or an overall priority numbering system where all the #1’s are handled first, then all the #2’s, etc.
  5. Put everyone to work. Give regular meeting attendees a job to do. It might be as simple as introducing the next topic of discussion or as complex as presenting a financial report. Attendees who help lead the meeting, no matter how small the part, will feel more invested in the agenda topics, and become much more comfortable participating in all discussions.

Happier ending.

When meeting trouble spots are left unchecked, the consequences can be diminished productivity, disengaged stakeholders, and ultimately a tarnished reputation for the organization and its leadership.

Proactively addressing the problem areas, an executive director can unlock a happier ending. Meetings can become more streamlined, stakeholders feel more empowered, and a strengthened organization emerges.

Your turn.

Your turn. How successful are your non-profit meetings? Are you prioritizing the health and effectiveness of getting people together? I want to know! Please use the form on the side of the page to let me know, ..or send me an email, ..or message me on socials.


Hi, I'm Christie. I help executive directors develop the systems and processes needed to run a non-profit.

I learned early in my career, there is no non-profit school. Browsing the internet for resources from big-city experts doesn’t provide practical solutions to balance the budget, write a work plan, or conduct an employee evaluation. Leadership development tips don’t really resonate when you are also taking out the recycling and cleaning the washroom.

I created so non-profit leaders never need to wonder how to do the job – no matter how big or small that job is.

I have been the executive director of small-team, small-budget, non-profits for 20+ years. My experience isn’t theory. It is the real, operational, and practical solutions I use every day.

I love my work and I want to help you love yours too.

© Christie Saas 2024 All Rights Reserved

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