TOOL 12 Review – Quarterly Board Meeting Agenda and Recommendations

By John Pearson

Plan a Robust “Heavy Lifting” Segment at Every Board Meeting

What are the key elements of an effective agenda and board meeting? This tool lists four ingredients:

  • Advance Materials (arriving seven to 10 days before the meeting)

  • Advance Preparation (unexcused absences are rare—because thoughtful agendas signal why every meeting is important—and board member prep is thorough)

  • Balanced Content (relational and inspirational; good news and bad news; due diligence and faith-stretching; and much more)

  • Strengths Are Leveraged (the board chair and the CEO lead the board in leveraging everyone’s 3 Powerful S’s: Strengths, Social styles, and Spiritual gifts)


Use this agenda template to signal the board, seven to 10 days in advance, that this board meeting is important—and their insights are needed.

Tool #12 in the new resource, ECFA Tools and Templates for Effective Board Governance, is one of three tools in Part 3, “Reporting to the Board,” in this jam-packed 272-page resource. The tool suggests, as an example, how to conduct an “assumptions exercise” during the regular “Heavy Lifting” session of the board meeting.

If your standard board meeting agenda template arrived with the Mayflower, maybe it’s time to refresh your agenda and refresh your board’s engagement and impact. Ed McDowell, executive director of Warm Beach Camp and Conference Center, Stanwood, Wash., works with his board chair to allocate one to two hours at each quarterly board meeting for what they call “heavy lifting.” Here the board practices generative thinking and wrestles with a big ministry opportunity or dilemma.

This tool also references four strategic planning steps noted in Rumsfeld’s Rules, including “Step 2: Identify Your Key Assumptions.” In my experience, many strategic plans—approved by boards—miss this critical step. Donald Rumsfeld writes:

“The assumptions stage of strategic planning tends to be
one of the most neglected. Assumptions are often left unstated,
it being taken for granted that everyone around a table knows what they are,
when frequently that is not the case. The assumptions that are hidden
or held subconsciously are the ones that often get you into trouble.”

He adds:

“It is possible to proceed perfectly logically from an inaccurate premise
to an inaccurate and unfortunate conclusion.”

Experiment with a heavy-lifting hour on “assumptions.” Then ask your board for ideas on your next four board meetings as you plan robust “Heavy Lifting” segments at each meeting.

Include time, of course, for prayer, discernment, silence and solitude, and listening. Read Lesson 11: "Tap! Tap! Tap!" in Lessons From the Nonprofit Boardroom, because “the arms of your CEO may be weary.” Remember in Exodus 17:12 “how Aaron and Hur held up Moses’s hands, one on each side” until sunset. That’s heavy lifting!

Order the tools book from Amazon by clicking on this title: ECFA Tools and Templates for Effective Board Governance: Time-Saving Solutions for Your Board, by Dan Busby and John Pearson. The book gives you full access to all 22 tools and templates—formatted as Word documents so you can customize the tools for your board’s unique uses.

BOARD DISCUSSION: Warm Beach Camp board vice chair Bob King suggests that boards “decrease staff reporting and increase heavy lifting.” Click here for his guest blog.) He notes that better board agendas will eliminate wasted time and help you focus on heavy-lifting topics. How could our board better maximize our board meeting time—so we are more effective stewards of God’s work?

MORE RESOURCES: Do you have agenda clutter? Ralph Enlow, president of the Association for Biblical Higher Education, used that descriptive malady in his guest blog for the Lessons From the Nonprofit Boardroom Blog. He writes, “…I find that the fatal combination of passivity and agenda clutter conspires to crowd out efforts to walk the talk of continuous board development.” Click here to read Enlow’s guest blog for Lesson 1.


This article was originally posted on the “Governance of Christ-Centered Organizations” blog, hosted by ECFA.
John Pearson, a board governance consultant and author, was ECFA’s governance blogger from 2011 to 2020.
© 2021, ECFA and John Pearson. All rights reserved.


This text is provided with the understanding that ECFA is not rendering legal, accounting, or other professional advice or service. Professional advice on specific issues should be sought from an accountant, lawyer, or other professional.