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Are Your Board Meetings Too Long? (or What the Heck Is a Consent Agenda and Why Should I Care?)

Thu, June 01, 2017 9:39 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)




Written by Deanna Tharpe, DSAIA Executive Director

If your board meetings are so long that you fear you will lose board members because of them….then you have a problem.  Ask yourself these two questions:

  1. Are we meeting often enough?
  2. Do we (as a board) have THAT much business to handle?

If your board meetings are spanning hours and you are meeting quarterly…maybe it’s time to move to a monthly or bi-monthly meeting schedule.  But more often than not, that is not really the issue.  That is when we move to the second question.  Do you really have that much business to handle….OR…are you perhaps spending too much time on committee business?

Solution: Consider moving toward a consent agenda.  What is a consent agenda?  A consent agenda, sometimes called a consent "calendar," is a component of a meeting agenda that enables the board to group routine items and resolutions under one umbrella.

As the name implies, there is a general agreement on the procedure.  Issues in this consent package do not need any discussion before a vote. Unless a board member feels that an item should be discussed and requests the removal of that item ahead of time, the entire package is voted on at once without any additional explanations or comments.

Because no questions or comments on these items are allowed during the meeting, this procedure saves time.  Routine, standard, non-controversial, and self-explanatory are adjectives that well describe consent agenda items. The following are some examples.

  • Committee and previous board meeting minutes
  • Office reports
  • Routine correspondence
  • Minor changes in a procedure (E-mail is added as an acceptable method of communication to announce a change in a meeting schedule)
  • Routine revisions of a policy (Changes in dates or dollar amounts due to changes in laws)
  • Updating documents (Address change for the main office)
  • Standard contracts that are used regularly (Confirmation of using the traditional in-house contract with a new vendor)
  • Confirmation of conventional actions that are required in the bylaws (Signatory authority for a bank account or acceptance of gifts)

As a single item on the agenda, the consent agenda is voted on with a single vote - to approve the consent agenda. The key to the Consent Agenda’s effectiveness, though, is that there is NO DISCUSSION of that item! That’s right. All those things that would have taken 2 minutes here, 5 minutes there, 1 minute here - they are off the table in one vote. The vote sounds like this:

Mary:

I move to approve the consent agenda.

Ann:

I’ll second that motion.

Chair:

There is a motion and a second to approve the consent agenda. All in favor, signify by saying “Aye.”

That’s it. NO  discussion. And all those items that previously took ½ hour or more have now all been approved.

Because there will be no discussion of these items individually, using a consent agenda requires that board materials be provided in plenty of time  - at least seven days - for board members to read them all. AND it requires that they read those materials!

Seems easy enough, right?  But, wait, you say…..put our committee reports in the consent agenda and NOT have a 45-minute discussion on the color of our walk shirt?  Yes.  Let your committees do committee work!  See…there is usually the big issue.  So, 3rd question:  Are you micromanaging your committees?  If you are having 3-hour board meetings, you probably are.  Even in a small organization with no staff and small board, you have to create committees and then let them do their job.  The board provides oversight and direction.  (This is a whole different blog post in itself so look for it later!) 

So, what if you see something in a committee report that makes you uncomfortable or you have questions about?  Questions are answered prior to the meeting.  If you disagree or feel that an issue requires further discussion, then pull that item from the Consent Agenda and put it on the regular agenda to discuss.  It’s not lock-down….it’s a tool to make your board meetings more productive.  Because you should be spending time on oversight and direction and not on the color of your walk shirts.  Trust me…you’ll thank me later when your board meetings drop to a reasonable time period and your board turnover drops.

You can institute a consent agenda at your next board meeting. Use this consent agenda proposal.


I want to tell you what WONDERFUL time I had at the conference. I learned so much and came away with lots of ideas for our organization. -Barb Waddle, The Upside of Downs of Northeast Ohio

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Down Syndrome Affiliates in Action started as a conference bringing together outstanding leadership from Down syndrome organizations around the country. Learn More

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