February 20, 2023

Better Board Meetings: Do You Limit Seconds Before Firsts?

You want engaging nonprofit board meetings. How do you get there?

In this video, Karen explains why it matters that only a few people talk at most meetings and what you lose when you hear just a few voices. What can you do to have successful board meetings?

Discover three easy-to-use solutions You can use one option on the fly. The other two require less than 15 minutes of prep.

The bottom line: You can have more effective nonprofit board meetings where the board’s brilliance shines and your nonprofit benefits.

Transcript of Better Board Meetings: Do you Limit Seconds Before Firsts

You would be totally annoyed if you went to a luncheon and people were cutting in line for seconds when some folks hadn’t had firsts. But we put up with this kind of behavior at our board meetings.

Research has shown that three people do 70 percent of the talking at most meetings.

What Does it Matter?

Why would it matter at your board meetings if this is the case? For one, you’re missing out on valuable voices who have opinions, ideas, and thoughts, and perspectives that you’re trying to gather in a collective group activity.

Second of all, if you are a board member who isn’t being heard, you have to wonder if you’re in the right place. If there isn’t some other place where you can invest your time and energy, and resources where your voice will be heard and be part of the solution.

What Can You Do to Create Better Board Meeting Engagement?

So what can you do to make sure that a lot more people contribute a lot more at your board meetings?


Number one is to be invitational. Both you and the chair and other board members can say, “We haven’t heard from everyone. Let’s slow down a minute here, and let’s get some other voices on the table. You could say things like, “Hey, John. You’ve been quiet most of this meeting. What are your thoughts? Do you want to summarize for us? Any perspectives? What are we not seeing here? Can you help us? Anything that invites people who have not had a chance to make a voice or as much as other people have more time.

Making Space

The second solution is what I call FHB. FHB is called a family holdback. If you’ve ever been in your family and your mom or your dad says to you, “Hey, FHB,” that means serving the food at this meal. Make sure the guests have what they want before you start diving in for seconds. It’s a kind of family code that people use. I certainly had it in my household growing up and have used it since.

And it’s the same thing. You would invite people who are in the know–the executive council, the governance group and say, “Hey, we’re not having as much participation unless FHB our voices and invite other people to come.

What Gets Measured Gets Improved

The third option is to go ahead and create meeting monitors. This is literally is a person who is tasked with looking at your process. Who is talking? Give them a list of the board members and have them make a tick mark after each one speaks. And if the person speaks more than a couple sentences, have to make another tick mark.

Mid-meeting, ask this person to say, “Hey Tom, would you go ahead and talk about who’s talked? How many of us have talked? How many have not? And who should we start with in the next question? Because we want to make sure everyone has a voice here. So it’s a tool that helps everyone begin to think about how much am I contributing by speaking. And how much am I contributing by listening to what other people say and giving everyone a chance to get the ideas on the table, so we have first-class quality discussions where everyone really is diving in, and together we’re figuring out what is the best pathway forward for this nonprofit.

Wait, Wait There is More

I’m Karen Eber Davis, and by all means, subscribe to this channel and, even better, subscribe to my newsletter, CEO solutions, for information about how to work with your board and other CEO challenges and opportunities directly to your inbox.


Karen Eber Davis

Karen Eber Davis provides customized advising and coaching around nonprofit strategy and board development. People leaders hire her to bring clarity to sticky situations, break through barriers that seem insurmountable, and align people for better futures. She is the author of 7 Nonprofit Income Streams and Let's Raise Nonprofit Millions Together.


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