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Improving Decision Making at your Voluntary Board meetings

As a school governor and member on a voluntary board, myself, there are good practices which should be recommended to all boards when operating their meetings.

Having spoken with friends and colleagues on similar boards of charities and church councils the important thing to remember is that, as volunteers, many of us have already worked a full 8 or 9 hour day before arriving at the meeting.

Whilst, by any means, not intended to be an exhaustive list, following these simple steps should allow meetings to be more efficient and effective, to get the best from your members.

1. Length of meetings: evening meetings which follow a full day’s work should be limited to 2 – 2½ hours; beyond this member’s energy and attention levels start to flag.  If additional committee groups need to be formed to allow meetings to remain in this time scale do so as more effective decision making should then be possible.

2. Adequate preparation: minutes of the last meeting and documents, reports and other important information for the meeting should have been circulated at least a week before the meeting and should include at least one weekend to allow necessary documents to be reviewed properly.  All members / attendees are expected to have read these and be properly prepared to deal with the business of the meeting.  Avoid providing documents for first review at the meeting as, at best, proper consideration of these will add to the overall length of the meeting, or, at worst, these are rushed through and proper consideration is not given at all.

3. Use a formal agenda: this should have been circulated by the clerk, secretary, or caller of the meeting and it should be followed.  Any additional matters should be deferred to the end of the meeting and raised under “Any Other Business”.  If a matter is important is should either be on the agenda already or notified to the Chair of the meeting prior to the meeting starting.

4. Chair of the meeting: this person is responsible for moving through the meeting agenda in a timely fashion, to allow the meeting to finish on time, whilst ensuring that all matters are given the appropriate level of consideration.  It is the Chair who should monitor the time and call for a decision from members / attendees whether to extend the meeting if required or to defer items on the agenda to another meeting.

5. Minute taker: all members should be aware of who the minute taker is and this person is responsible for collecting copies of all documents at the end of the meeting; typing up the minutes, and circulating these in a timely fashion.  This is of particular importance where members are required to action specific matters before the next meeting.

Following these simple suggestions should allowing all meetings to operate effectively and more importantly allow better decisions to be taken.

For further details about the above or any questions, please contact Deborah Austin.