Your trustees are responsible for making sure the charity does what it was set up to do. Yet too often, despite each individual’s strengths, meetings are not as efficient as they should be.
Simon and Garfunkel’s break through hit always fascinated me – “the Sound of Silence”. I never understood it (or indeed any of their other songs really, “Mrs Robinson” - seriously, say what now?!) but if you are attending a trustee meeting and the chair gets to the point of the meeting where “AOB” is called, I would wager you are praying that the “Sound of Silence” hangs heavy in the air!
My last few blogs have considered looking at skills gaps that may have appeared as a result of the new challenges created by the pandemic including "who are you" and “sourcing skilled trustees”. You’ve done the hard part, there’s a few new faces on the board now itching to go and help, so back to business right?
Actually, maybe not...The new trustees (indeed the existing ones too!) may well have spent the last 16 months or so in daily video calls and possibly have a huge blur between home and work. For the existing trustees, meetings will inevitably have been much longer than previously as there has been so much to steer the charity through. But, now, as the world slowly returns to normal, time allowed for meetings will have been allowed to creep and will no doubt be significantly longer than pre-pandemic.
There may even be some huge challenges to overcome and these may need more decisions to be made than usual. Having gone through the process of identifying skill gaps and people to fill these, it would be a shame to lose trustees by scaring them off with how much time is lost to inefficient meetings. Keeping meetings on track is something that is likely to be a focus right now. I am sure we will all have seen the Handforth Parish Council Zoom Meeting (a lesson in how not to hold a meeting if you haven’t seen it!)
Making your trustee meetings more effective
What can be done to make your meetings more effective? Some really simple models can be used to control a meeting. One I have been using in a number of meetings recently with great success is the ‘4P model’. Some people argue that this is the ‘5P Model’. So, assuming a 5P theory, these are:
Preparation: Have an agenda and send out papers in advance. If there is a specific topic or project that requires a decision, make sure that at least two or three days in advance all trustees are aware of the details and have background papers outlining the facts. Maybe even put a time slot in the attendee’s diary to review advance information to make sure this happens.
Purpose: At the start of the meeting, set out the points that need to be discussed and make it clear what decisions are needed at the meeting – so for example, the purpose of this meeting is to review the current financial performance of the charity, consider whether the budget for the next X number of years is a suitable plan and meets the Charitable objectives and approve the spending plan to achieve the budget for the next 12 months, including a decision on whether to purchase new capital equipment.
Participants: This one should be easy! Who is here and why are they here (there may be a need for input from the management of the charity – so make sure that they are included for the relevant part of the meeting).
Process: How will the meeting be run? Will it be a ‘show and tell’ or is there to be debate on a topic? For example, do you allocate 20% of the time slot to review the current KPI’s, 10% to reviewing the minutes from the last meeting and ensuring no actions have been missed, 20% to reading the report for a new capital expenditure plan, 10% of the time debating the budget for the year, 10% of the time voting and recording actions and 10% of the time to flag AOB. (Some may argue that 10% is too little for this – but if the AOB is that big, it really should be set out in advance under preparation and be an agenda item with defined time allocation).
Payoff: this one is again easy – the payoff is that the meeting will run on time, the decisions that need to be made will be made and that the meeting will be noted as successful. (And we’ll all be home in time for tea!)
There is an argument of 6P’s – the sixth one being Pizza! Not sure I fully agree with this one – food is important (it’s illegal to hold a meeting without biscuits (allegedly…)) and it is good to have some social time post meeting, but this is something not everyone will be able to commit to each meeting so will probably depend on who the trustees are – make sure everyone is ok for time if you are planning to do something social post meeting and definitely plan it in advance to make sure no conflict of commitments.
Using a model such as this one helps to shape a structure to a meeting, making sure that the correct allocation of time/resource is given to each agenda point, that the key decisions needed are made after suitable consideration and that everyone is able to leave the meeting on time together rather than having to give apologies part way through (and inevitably just before a key agenda item comes up!). If you get this all right, you should have had a productive meeting.
The final bit of advice I would give is to make sure that a clock is visible if you are the chair of a meeting - and make sure that the time keeping is kept to.
The above is just one way to help shape a meeting, there are many such tools and your usual UHY adviser will be able to help.
The next step
The above is just one way to help shape a meeting, there are many such tools and your usual UHY adviser will be able to help. For more information on this topic, please get in touch with your local UHY adviser.