Nonprofit board tips: Consent is sweet

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Few things frustrate the busy person more than wasted time in meetings. Last week’s column on nonprofit boards mentioned two ways to streamline meetings: the consent agenda and Robert’s Rules of Order.

A consent agenda takes the routine stuff, such as approval of minutes, routine staff reports, future meeting dates, confirmation of board appointments, and simple letters and other non-controversial items provided merely for informational purposes, and groups these into a single motion for approval. These items are provided to board members and attendees well in advance of the meeting, so everyone has a chance to read and consider them.

What if something placed on the consent agenda shouldn’t be there, or has an element which merits more consideration? If a voting member of the board or group wants to discuss something at length, they can request as the meeting opens for that item to be moved to the full agenda for more attention. That’s not to say discussion is not allowed; removal may not be necessary for a simple question or brief comment. Prolonged discussion defeats the purpose. Otherwise, the entire consent agenda is simply listed as one agenda item, mentioned, and generally approved in one go, cutting out the time required to address them one by one.

To adopt a consent agenda for a nonprofit board:

• Supporting documentation for each item must be provided in advance, so directors may confidently meet their duty of care.

• Directors/board members can ask relevant questions prior to the meeting.

• If doing so reveals an item on the consent portion of the agenda that requires action or a decision, it should be moved to the regular agenda and raised later in the meeting. Any board member can request this.

• A vote on the single motion to approve the consent agenda applies to all the items on it.

• Consent agendas are not appropriate for decision items, but only for informational items and minutes. All items on the consent portion of the agenda are still open to discussion and debate if someone requests they be moved.

Next time: Robert’s Rules of Order. They may seem fussy, but they’re well worth the time they spare and courtesies they ensure.

•••

Sholeh Patrick is a columnist for the Hagadone News Network and serial board volunteer. Contact her at Sholeh@cdapress.com.

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