Best Practices to Avoid Monthly Board Meeting Burnout

3 Stress-Reduction Tools

For over 30 years, my cousin James suffered from monthly migraines. They occurred the day after his nonprofit board meetings.


You, too, like James, may suffer from board meeting stress. While you might not get boomerang migraines, you may experience lost sleep, stomach upset, or anxiety. Your staff may even avoid you on board meeting days because you’re on edge.


Whatever your response, you’re not alone. Board meetings are complex, unpredictable, and essential. CEOs and executive directors are universally relieved when board meetings are over.


Nonprofit leaders are not helpless victims. Tools exist to reduce the stress board meetings create. These tools minimize burnout and foster careers. One CEO shared that his predecessor could have stayed, but “the board just wore him down.”


How Can You Reduce the Anxiety that Nonprofit Board Meetings Produce? 


Get ahead of the game. Here are some tools from my toolbox, starting a month out and ending with the actual meeting.


Karen’s Board Meeting Preparation Tools


1. What to Do in the Weeks Ahead


Remember how to eat an elephant? You got it, one bite at a time. To reduce the pressure on everyone, create a process to surface upcoming agenda items and resistance. Make your board meeting agenda well in advance. That is, structure your preparations into a series of steps with deadlines.


I’m not talking about more work here. Instead, you’re looking at the same task earlier. Here’s an example preparation model.


Monthly Board Meeting Schedule Example


1st Week: Board meeting
2nd Week: Send meeting minutes out.
3rd Week: Your deadline for committee meeting reports and agenda items requests. Meet with the board chair to create your agenda. (Watch how to make a kick-ass agenda for more.)
4th Week: Send board agenda and packets out. Set up any pre-meeting phone calls.


Whatever schedule you adopt, design it, so it reduces last-minute pressure. Will this go perfectly? Hardly ever! But by instituting structure, you will reduce stress over time and boost your board meetings’ productivity.


2. What to Do The Day of the Board Meeting


Set one priority for board meeting days: creating a successful meeting. Embrace that anything else that you accomplish that day will be a bonus.


Therefore, your initial task of the day is to prepare for the meeting. Shut your door, turn off your cell phone and get ready.


During this time, decide:


  • How will you contribute to each agenda item? What do members need to make quality decisions?
  • Your emotions. Do any members or agenda items make you angry, scared, or frustrated, etc.? If so, do your emotional homework. You want to be clear about what you feel, and proactive about were your intentions. (Use Bryon Katie’s Four Questions.) Don’t skip this step. You know, of course, that many boards will slice you like deli meat if you send mixed messages. Mixed messages get crucial agenda items tabled.
  • What do your board members need from you before the meeting? Perhaps, it’s a quick call, text, or email to encourage them to attend? Something you promised to provide? Move these items to your to-do list and get as many done as possible.
  • (Optional but valuable.) Where each member is in terms of donor development. Can you move any individual along in their development journey before, during, or after the gathering?
  • If you can squeeze in some downtime before the meeting to exercise or chill, so you are mentally sharp and relaxed.


3. What to Do at the Board Meeting


Having done all these preparation steps, your meeting should be smooth sailing. Not! However, your meetings will be more productive, engaging, and valuable. You’re about to see your groundwork pay off.


To maximize your meeting results during them, seek to be in the moment so that you can:


  • Name the feelings expressed because effective active listening shares back emotions.
  • Consider who is not sharing and invite them to contribute.
  • Breathe to resist the temptation to fill voids with your voice.
  • Share what you feel about the complicated agenda items and your preferences.


My cousin James solved his migraine problem. He retired. If your board’s stressing you out, don’t wait that long! Use these guidelines. Let me know how it goes.


If you would like more help creating an effective board that is a pleasure to work with, please reach out. I’d love to help you sleep well before and after your board meetings.


More Burnout Prevention Resources 
Preventing burnout comes with the nonprofit leaders’ job description. In almost all cases, the way to prevent burnout is not to work harder. Instead, it is to step away from the flame and figure out how to improve your approach to challenges.
Here’s are three invitations to step back and refresh.
  • Does your stress comes from, well—everything.
Watch The 7 Levers of Nonprofit leadership. Could you share it with your staff? Explore which levers you can use more.
  • Sometimes to de-stress, your brain needs some fuel.
Feed your brain with one or more of these 30 Leadership Activities for Growth.
  • Or maybe it’s time to get real about what it means to serve others in the nonprofit sector.
Do you have specific stressors you’d like to tackle? Don’t hesitate to reach out.
All the best, Karen

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