How to Lead Effective Hybrid Nonprofit Board Meetings

Gregory Nielsen • Aug 10, 2021

Leading an effective board meeting can be challenging under the best of circumstances. How is our attendance? Are there any contentious issues on the horizon? 

From preparing the agenda to promoting engagement and discussion, board meetings require a high degree of thoughtfulness and intentionality. Today, many nonprofit and board leaders face an additional challenge: how do we lead effective meetings in a ‘hybrid’ environment?

A ‘hybrid’ environment occurs when some board members are physically in the meeting room while others join virtually. This has become a common situation for nonprofits, especially in light of the pandemic. So, here are four tips and strategies to ensure that your next board meeting is dynamic and effective:

1. Develop the Rules Together

By its very nature, leading a board meeting in a hybrid environment requires more moving parts and issues to manage. Take the time as a board team to develop the norms and expectations you have of each other to create the most productive meeting possible. 

Many board teams have developed practices such as having a lineup of speakers to ensure that in-person and virtual attendees have equal opportunities to speak and contribute to the discussion. You can also discuss how you will record votes on any official board action.  

More so, you should have fun with some of the rules you set. In a board team that I recently worked with, we established a “rule” that every time a board member starts talking while on mute, they contribute $.25 or some other nominal amount to the donation jar. Make it fun and collaborative! 

Teams that take the time to develop rules and practices together form a greater level of ownership over their meetings.  

2. Choose the Ideal Virtual Meeting Platform 

By now, we are all familiar with the technology platforms that exist to facilitate virtual meetings.  We are well versed in their pluses and their minuses. The reality is that no one platform is “best” for nonprofit board meetings. Instead, the platform that will help lead to the most effective meetings is the one you and your board members are most comfortable with and can navigate most easily. 

Before selecting a platform, check with the board and get a sense of their preferences. You may find a high degree of consensus around comfort with a particular platform.

Similarly, once you have selected a platform for your hybrid board meeting, you should test it with each board member who will be joining virtually. Nothing will derail a board meeting faster than a board member, with increasing exasperation, asking, “Can you hear me now?”

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3. Plan the Agenda Thoughtfully

While it is always important to take a thoughtful approach in preparing a board meeting agenda, it is even more so when leading a hybrid meeting. Give yourself and your team grace in understanding that you may not be able to get through the same volume of items in a hybrid meeting as you do in person—and that’s ok! 

It is far more important for the board’s time together to be engaging, productive, and impactful rather than comprehensive. When creating an agenda, remember that offering onramps for engagement and discussion are important for all board members, regardless of how they are joining the meeting. 

More so, you should consider assigning roles to board members such as facilitator, chat moderator, or engagement monitor, or even securing an external facilitator who is comfortable with the hybrid environment. 

Finally, assess the most effective length for your board meeting in this environment. If your meeting is going to last more than an hour, consider building in a break for board members to ensure that energy and focus remain high throughout.  

4. Don’t Ignore the Elephant in the Room

There are elephants in just about every board room. Some are large, and some are small, but they are those issues, conflicts, or dysfunctions that, if ignored, may over time undermine the effectiveness of the board team. 

The temptation when dealing with the challenges of a hybrid meeting is to ignore the elephants in the room, postponing addressing them until the board can all be together again. Instead, be mindful of these issues. You should pay close attention to tone, body language, and what is not being said—either by those in the room or those joining virtually. 

Where appropriate, pause to ensure that small misunderstandings don’t become large conflicts.  If you see signs and signals that conflict or disagreement is brewing, you should assess whether it is best to pause at the moment and address it as a team or schedule a reminder to follow up individually with the team members.    

By engaging your nonprofit board team to set expectations for your hybrid nonprofit board meetings and then facilitating the meeting in a thoughtful way, your next nonprofit board meeting will be more productive and help drive your mission forward. 
If you have more questions about creating dynamic, effective nonprofit board meetings, you can connect with me here

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Gregory Nielsen, Founder of Nielsen Training & Consulting, LLC

About the Author: 
Gregory Nielsen

Gregory Nielsen is a sought-after speaker and consultant committed to helping leaders and organizations translate vision into reality.

He is an accomplished nonprofit CEO, having previously led the Center for Nonprofit Excellence. His leadership was recognized locally and nationally and honored with awards from the Better Business Bureau for Ethics and the Louisville Urban League for championing diversity.

Gregory is a military veteran, having previously served as an officer and attorney in the United States Army. He holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Government and International Relations from the University of Notre Dame and a Juris Doctorate from Notre Dame Law School.

About Nielsen Training & Consulting, LLC

Nielsen Training & Consulting, LLC offers custom training and consulting services that empower organizations to translate vision into reality.