Key points:

  • Agendas play a key role in the success of any board or committee meeting a charity or not-for-profit might hold.
  • Traditionally, the board chair is responsible for developing the agenda, and will consult with fellow board members or key stakeholders when doing so. In some charities, meeting agendas are prepared by the board secretary – again, in consultation with others.
  • Agendas should be distributed to all meeting participants well in advance of the meeting, and should be accompanied by relevant background papers and material. Agendas can be made available to your charity’s broader membership prior to the meeting as well.
  • While there are some things common to most agendas, there is also some flexibility in how meeting agendas can be structured. It is important though that only relevant, necessary items and information are included.

Why is an agenda important?

An agenda is the running order of a meeting. It outlines what will be discussed, debated and decided upon during the meeting of a charity’s board or committee.

Like a road map, a clear, concise and good quality agenda makes navigating board or committee meetings far easier. The agenda should signpost important points or issues and provide direction to help charities and their Responsible Persons reach their destination in the most efficient and productive way possible.

Preparing the agenda

Preparation and thought go a long way towards determining the agenda’s quality. Compiling the agenda begins with the minutes of the previous meeting.

Relevant decisions and action items from the previous meeting (or meetings) should have been noted in the minutes. Provision to follow up progress on any of these items should then be allowed for in the next meeting.

The board chair is usually responsible for developing the agenda. The chair should consult with board members and relevant stakeholders on what will be on the agenda; for smaller charities a general email asking people to raise items they wish to have included may suffice.

Think about:

  • Any issues requiring a decision to allow your charity’s work to continue.
  • Any issues which indicate a need for a change of direction or a new policy.
  • Any issues on which the board needs to provide a clear direction.
  • Any reports or statements which need to be formally approved or, at the least, noted.

Some charities also ask their general membership if they have items they want placed on the agenda for discussion. Each individual charity needs to make their own decision on how this approach might work for them.

Either way, it is basic good governance to have the agenda finalised and distributed several days before the meeting is staged.

Doing this gives board or committee members – particularly those involved with smaller charities, and who might have to fit their duties around busy daily lives – time to read and understand the agenda. This in turn leads to intelligent discussion and considered decision making.

In addition, making the agenda available to your charity’s broader membership allows them the chance to raise relevant issues or stay updated on the charity’s work and direction.

Agenda structure

No matter the size of your charity, meeting agendas are generally divided into several sections.

A written agenda should clearly display the charity’s name at the top, along with the date, time and location of the meeting.

It should then list some of the formal introductory items:

  • A welcome – especially if there are new board or committee members – as well as any apologies for those who can’t attend.
  • Confirmation of the minutes of the previous board or committee meeting. These minutes should have been previously circulated or can be attached to the agenda.
  • An upfront declaration of any actual, potential or perceived conflicts of interest anyone present may have.

At this point, time can be set aside for any matters that might arise from the previous meeting’s minutes. Reports from the treasurer, president, fundraising manager or any relevant subcommittees can be listed on the agenda here.

Items of general business – the real meat of the meeting – are usually next to be listed on the agenda. These items can generally be divided into:

  • Matters for decision – those items for which a formal decision is required. For example, a new policy or an action needed in response to an issue.
  • Matters for discussion – items for which discussion among board or committee members is required. These might be updates on ongoing matters.
  • Matters for noting or information – these might be updates or minutes from other meetings (internal or external), reports (for example, a treasurer’s report) or general correspondence the charity has received.

Your agenda should include a short summary for each item, as well as the recommendation or motion on each matter. This gives direction to your discussions.

Following the general business section of the agenda, other items can be listed. They can include:

  • A round-up or review of agreed actions (which can then be summarised in the minutes).
  • Other/late/urgent business – Items not included in general business but that need to be discussed. This might be where issues raised by charity members and others are discussed.
  • Confirmation of the date, time and location of the next meeting.

The meeting can then close.

And be sure to finalise and circulate the meeting minutes as soon as possible.

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