Board Calendars – An Essential Tool for Smart Nonprofit Leaders

One of the most predominant traits of a well-managed organization is their ability to create a plan and to achieve that plan. To think strategically and then make a series of changes based on that strategy is a key skill that sets well-run organization's apart from poorly managed organizations.

To keep the board and organization's plans on track, the Board Calendar is a useful tool that I often recommend to boards with whatever I consult. It's a simple, yet powerful, tool for a Board Chair and CEO to plan out what decisions the board needs to make – and to communicate those decision points to everyone involved.

Start by thinking about your own calendar year – and decide in advance what board decisions need to be made during the next twelve months. Remember, only governance-related, board-worthy decisions need to be made by a vote of the entire board. All other decisions can be delegated to the staff or board committees. Governance discussions and decisions related to these six topics:

(1) the organization's mission
(2) the organization's strategy
(3) the organization's policies
(4) the organization's financial health
[5] the organization's CEO
(6) the board's sustainability.

These six topics should be the focus of your board meeting discussions and the basis of your board's decisions. For a more thorough explanation of governance see my article entitled "Board Governance – Six Keys to Successful Oversight."

To create a calendar for your organization, make a chart with the date of each board meeting across the top and each board committee down the side. Include the staff as the last row on the bottom. This grid will become your calendar. Now think about each committee (and the staff) – and what decisions the entire board will need to make that result from the work and recommendations of that committee.

Here are three examples of standard board decisions:

1. The Finance Committee will need to work with the staff to develop and review next year's annual expense budget before it goes to the entire board for their approval. So in the finance committee row, in the column of the last meeting of the year, put "Approve Expense Budget".

2. The Fundraising Committee will need to see and approve the staff's fundraising budget before it's presented to and approved by the entire board. In the Fundraising Committee row, in the last board meeting of the year, put "Approve Fundraising Budget".

3. The Board Development Committee will need to be looking for and recruiting new board members throughout the year. In most cases, the entire board must approve all new board members. So, decide which board meeting will include that agenda item – and put "Approve new board members" in the appropriate portion of your grid.

The more clearly you can determine in advance what needs to get done by the board, the more likely you are to make that happen. Because board meetings involve board decisions that usually require recommendations from board committees or the staff, planning the board meeting decisions in advance is critical for your success. This board calendar is an essential tool to keep everyone on track as you work through the decisions your organization must make this year.