Call to order: 4:02 PM

Posted in executive director / board of directors / board meeting

Call to order: 4:02 PM

The board meeting is coming up and your job, as the executive director of the non-profit, is to prepare both the reading package and your own reports.

Avoid hurt feelings and wasted time.

The challenge comes in understanding the nuances between what parts of the reading package are created by the board and what parts are created by the executive director. This is where roles get fuzzy, and both board members and executive director might feel like they are under appreciated. With a little bit of planning, and a handful of repeatable steps, an executive director can support the board without overstepping.

Plan backwards.

Usually, a non-profit will have a policy indicating how far in advance the board wants to receive the reference reading for a board meeting. If there is no policy, an executive director will want to provide enough time for board members to read the meeting package, remembering that board members are volunteers with jobs, families, and other commitments. 1-2 weeks prior to the meeting is usually enough time.

Once the deadline to send the board reading package is determined, an executive director then schedules enough time to prepare the material. This will depend on how much information needs to be researched, written, and reported. Usually, 1 week is enough time.

If you were following this schedule and had a board meeting on the 28th of the month, the preparation of materials would start on the 7th, and the reading package would be sent out on the 14th.

Assemble the agenda document.

An executive director, as a paid employee, handles the clerical tasks for each board meeting, such as assembling the agenda document. It is critical for executive directors to remember that a board meeting is not their meeting, and they do not create or decide agenda items. As it pertains to the creation of the agenda document, the ED’s role is a sort of advance administrative role.

The agenda will likely follow a format previously determined by the board. The agenda will include a collection of reports, some from board committees and some from the executive director. The agenda will also have a Business of the Meeting section, where new, or scheduled topics will be discussed.  

A big part of assembling the agenda document is knowing what to include in the Business of the Meeting section. An executive director can be very helpful here, by maintaining a running list. The ED listens at board meetings for comments like “let’s table that to the next meeting” or “let’s revisit this topic each spring” or “we should have discussed this 3 months ago”. The executive director gathers this information into a calendar document, so it is readily available to add to the agenda for the corresponding meeting.

The board may also use a process for individual board members to submit agenda items. That process might include sending topics to the board chair. But the executive director can again, be very helpful here, and handle this task on the board’s behalf.

Assemble the individual agenda items.

With the agenda document complete, an executive director will work to prepare the information the board will discuss.

Committee Reports.

Committee reports are not usually prepared by the executive director, but all non-profits are different, and some committees may need the ED’s assistance in the preparation of their reports.

ED Report #1: Ends.

The executive director reports on how the organization is progressing towards meeting the goals set out by the board in the strategic plan. This report might be called an Ends Report. It isn’t a report on programs and services. The board hires a non-profit executive director to achieve goals and wants to read a report on how that is progressing, not a report on the minutia of events from the past month.

ED Report #2: Compliance.

The executive director will also provide a report on how they are working within the rules set out by the board. This report might be called a Compliance Report or an Executive Limitations Report. The rules the ED must follow are usually numerous, so an executive director will typically report on only 1-2 rules for each meeting.

ED Report #3: Financial.

To help with financial monitoring, a board requires a report indicating the budget, the actual revenues and expenses to date, and an explanation of any variation. This report might be called a Budget Report. The budget report is one of the key places for a board to ensure there is no fraud occurring in the management of the organization. Executive directors need to remember to protect themselves and their professional reputation, and ALWAYS provide a budget report, even is the board gets disinterested and doesn’t want it.

Research for Business of the Meeting.

Finally, some of the items for the Business of the Meeting section may require research so the board has the information to help make decisions. In most instances, the executive director will prepare these reports, titled to match the agenda numbering. Since the executive director is paid to manage the non-profit and is very likely the person with the deepest understanding of matters affecting the organization, these reports will usually include the executive director’s professional recommended action. The board will read both the research, and the ED’s recommendation, as they make decisions.

Create an easy-to-read package.

I think it is sloppy or lazy for an executive director to prepare a reading package and then send it out as an email with a bunch of attachments using inconsistent naming, or a confusing order.

An executive director will want to approach the structure of the reading package in two ways. Either rename each item, adding numbering that corresponds to the numbering on the agenda. Or use an Adobe software (affordable through Tech Soup) to combine everything into one big combo document, again, following the order on the agenda.

Of course, some boards still use traditional hard copy reading packages. In this instance, it is easy to sort all paperwork into an order that mirrors the agenda.

Write the past minutes. Write the next agenda.

I have a trick I use for assembling the agenda document. I always write the agenda document for the next meeting, immediately after I finish the minutes from the prior meeting.

That means I create the agenda document well in advance of the next meeting, while all the little details are fresh in my mind from the most recent meeting. It has proven to be the best way to ensure requests, changes, and reports, are not missed. It also saves future me some time in preparing the reading package. (Thanks, past me!)

The executive director can make the process easy.

When following a pre-determined board reading package, there is usually not much need to have anything previewed by a board chair, prior to the meeting. But that only works if everyone is comfortable with the decision.

It is always a good idea to tweak the preparation of the reading package to fit the collective preferences of the people involved.

Your turn.

Your turn. How far in advance do you send out a board meeting reading package? Who prepares the different reports? How has your reading package changed over the years? 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 2023 All Rights Reserved

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