Why Nonprofit Board Meeting Minutes Matter (& 4 Helpful Hints)
Your board regularly gathers to strategize and put your organization on the fast track toward its mission. Whether you meet monthly or quarterly there’s a lot that goes on in these gatherings. That’s where recording minutes (or, more simply, in-depth notes) comes in handy.
Taking minutes allows you to create an official record of what decisions were made, who attended, what action items need to be followed up on, and any other influential conversations that occurred. Without minutes, your team might remember the big-picture items but instantly forget what exactly was said and who’s responsible for which follow-up tasks.
No matter how you look at it, it’s not enough to craft subpar minutes. With all that relies on this document, it can seem like a hefty task for your team, and it’s not one you should take lightly. It plays a direct role in engagement and can mean the difference between an adequate board and an extraordinary one.
To help, we’ll explore board meeting minutes in-depth and give you a few suggestions along the way. Here’s what we’ll cover:
- A Rundown of Why Effective Minutes Matter
- Actionable Tips for Recording Better Minutes
With some practice and intentionality, your team will become minutes-taking experts in no time, and you’ll never have to worry about your board causing any internal or external complications.
Let’s start with a basic overview of why board meeting minutes are important for any type of organization.
A Rundown of Why Effective Board Meeting Minutes Matter
Most often taken by a secretary, recording minutes is such a routine item that it can be easy to not give them their due diligence. It can do a whole lot of good to remind the minutes-taker why taking minutes effectively is so crucial for the board and organization as a whole.
At its core, meeting minutes serve as an official record of the decisions and actions taken by the board of directors at an organization. They serve as a reference point for future decision-making, but the benefits run deeper than this surface-level advantage. When minutes are accurate and comprehensive while still being digestible, they will:
- Inform those who were unable to attend about what was discussed. Even with a group of board members who pride themselves in high attendance, someone inevitably won’t be able to attend, whether for family reasons, work conflicts, or other priorities that pop up in their busy lives. Dispersing minutes fairly soon (ideally, within the same week) after the board meeting will keep them in the loop.
- Protect the board and organization from legal liability. If your board encounters legal trouble, the court may subpoena your board meeting minutes and use them as an official account of the board’s actions. An accurate record of what was said and done will serve you well in this scenario.
- Establish transparency with stakeholders. Donors, sponsors, and shareholders— whoever you rely on to fund your organization’s work—will appreciate a greater sense of transparency when your board shares insight into meeting conversations. Effective minutes will accurately reflect that your organization is a responsible steward of funders’ money, potentially inspiring them to increase their support.
Overall, board meeting minutes should be given proper care and attention. Beyond serving as a reference point for your organization, they have external implications that put your organization in jeopardy if recorded inaccurately. By taking enough care when recording minutes, you’ll convey that your board is exercising good governance practices.
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Actionable Tips for Recording Informative Board Meeting Minutes
How do you effectively condense an hour (or more) of valuable discussions and decisions into concise, consumable minutes without excluding important details? Understanding how to record effective minutes will empower your minutes-taker to capture everything they need without being so descriptive that they open the board up to external complications.
It never hurts to have a cheat sheet to reference as you go, so let’s brush up on some best practices that you can immediately implement in your minutes-taking strategy.
1. Leverage software to smoothen the process.
Board meetings can move quickly. Recording by hand has quickly become outdated and infeasible, and as we’ve mentioned, missing crucial notes can open your board up to a host of challenges. That’s where dedicated software comes into play.
Board management software has changed the name of the game when it comes to board documentation and daily communications.
Re:Charity’s list of COVID-19 resources explains that effective board management software empowers you to “painlessly plan meetings, securely store documents, and foster a spirit of collaboration” among members. Some solutions prioritize the minutes-taking experience with dedicated tools, which enable team members to have ready-to-distribute minutes within moments after the meeting ends.
With the right tools, you can quickly enter your notes, assign follow-up tasks, and record votes. Plus, there’s no need to rely on paper if you have tools that allow you to store the notes digitally. Then, with just a few clicks and complete control over privacy settings, your team can securely send the minutes to everyone who needs them. You’ll save money and invaluable time by going digital.
2. Use the agenda as a template.
Given that your agenda serves as the framework of your nonprofit board meetings, following along as you take minutes is a solid way to ensure nothing’s left out. It also gets some of the extra work out of the way when the discussion topics are already typed up.
Circling back to software, a dedicated platform can streamline minutes-taking and ensure you don’t exclude notes on vital discussion topics. For example, Boardable’s Agenda Builder combined with the intuitive Minutes Maker makes it incredibly easy to record minutes directly on your agenda.
3. Know what information to include.
One of the most challenging parts of recording meeting minutes is making on-the-spot decisions as to what information to include. Effective minutes are all about understanding what’s important and what you can live without writing down.
Having a foundational understanding of what information your team should include will help guide decisions and ensure no crucial points are left out. In general, your nonprofit board meeting minutes should always include the following details:
- The type of meeting, whether regularly scheduled or an emergency
- The date, time, and location of the meeting, including whether there were virtual attendees
- A list of attendees, including any nonvoting guests with their names, titles, and reasons for joining the meeting
- A list of any motions, seconds, and whether the motion passed
As a general rule, listen for any large-scale decisions, action items, and discussions. Then, aim for your minutes to be specific enough to capture key decisions and rationale, but not so vague or sparse that someone who wasn’t able to attend can’t decipher what occurred during the meeting.
4. Know what information to exclude.
By that same token, your minute-taker should be aware of what to exclude from board meeting minutes. Aim to cover all the crucial conversations, decisions, and action items coming out of the meeting, but bear in mind that they should not transcribe everything said.
There are areas where you’ll certainly want to exercise caution. For instance, you should exclude these five elements from your nonprofit organization’s board meeting minutes:
- How individuals voted. In most cases, you’ll simply name who made the motion and who seconded the motion. Then, include the number of votes for each position (i.e., yea, nay, or abstain).
- Members’ opinions. Minutes for your board meetings should be unbiased, so steer clear of recording opinions. If necessary, you can simply state that a disagreement or debate occurred.
- Summaries of documents or presentations. Documents and other reports should be sent ahead of time, so board meetings and minutes can focus on decisions, not reviewing various documents.
- Anything that could open up the board to liability. This could include praise, displeasure, political banter, and any unnecessary legal terms. This information can open up a tax-exempt entity to scrutiny, leading to a legal investigation.
- Off-the-record conversations. Side conversations and comments will inevitably occur, but that doesn’t mean they should be included in the minutes. Exclude things that don’t pertain to the topics at hand.
In general, leave out anything that could present complications when reviewed by anyone later on. That’s where taking a facts-based approach comes in handy. Sticking to the facts will help eliminate unnecessary fluff and avoid complications all-around. Be “short and sweet” without including so little information that it raises suspicion among outside readers.
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As an experienced nonprofit board professional, you recognize that there’s way more to board meeting minutes than meets the eye. While they certainly act as a reference point to internal and external individuals, there’s more to it than that.
With complete and accurate (yet scannable) board meeting minutes, you can keep key individuals in the loop, and keep your board focused on growth, rather than dealing with challenges from incomprehensible minutes.
About the Author:
Jeb is the founder and CEO of Boardable, a board management software provider for mission-driven boards. He is also the founder of two nonprofits, The Speak Easy and Musical Family Tree, as well as a board member of United Way of Central Indiana and ProAct. Jeb is based in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Boardable is an online board management portal that centralizes communication, document storage, meeting planning, and everything else that goes into running a board of directors.