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Behind closed doors at a trustee meeting

If someone wrote an honest report of your organisation’s board meetings, what would make you cringe?

One of the most common questions we receive at Getting on Board from prospective trustees is what actually happens at trustee meetings.

Board meetings are perceived as mysterious affairs full of drama, crisis and impossibly complicated strategic discussions. The reality is often more mundane. But I have found that even the most routine meetings can be peppered with poor behaviour, humour, passion and moments of genius.

Minutes should be objective, unemotive reports of decisions made and the rationale behind them. They often leave out the inappropriate and bizarre. But what would happen if they were more honest? Let’s see…

Minutes of the trustees of The Typical Charity Trust Present: Alan Cartwright (Chair), Susan Cartwright (Treasurer), Michael Cartwright, Janet Smith, David Jenkins Apologies: Mark Simmonds In attendance: Maggie Lott (CEO), Barry Bluebottle (Minutes)

1. Declarations of conflict of interest SC assured the board that when it came to the refurbishment item, she will not be conflicted when suggesting her brother-in-law’s building company, Cartwrights, which will certainly be the best firm for the job.

2. Minutes of the last meeting ML (CEO) apologised for only sending out the minutes two days ago since she has been rather busy running a £2m organisation on three days a week. MC asked for Strategy to be capitalised. The minutes were approved.

3. Service reports Demand has significantly increased for the lunch service since becoming home-delivery during the pandemic, and the service is getting excellent feedback. ML proposed a hybrid model, with some lunches in person at the hall and some being delivered. DJ was positive about these changes and asked about how they might affect their local authority contract. SC noted that broccoli was on the menu twice in one week, and that, contrary to what was in the report, it was spelt with two c’s. MC declared that broccoli was the devil’s own spawn.

4. Financial forecasting ML had undertaken some detailed forecasting, which showed that although fundraising for the refurbishment from grant-makers has gone well, income from public donations continues to be low. Reserves are diminished and she proposed measures to increase traded income. MC suggested ringing Amazon, which has just opened a new warehouse on the outskirts of town. He suggested that the charity could get some cash from them. He met a woman called Philippa who worked for Amazon in the queue in a local café (she was ordering a tremendous number of sausage rolls) who would definitely have arranged a donation, but unfortunately he didn’t get her number. AC asked ML to “hold fire” with her plans until MC can track Philippa down.

5. Building refurbishment ML spoke about the in-depth research she has undertaken with the wider community about the possible uses of the hall. She has had some architectural plans drawn up for the reconfiguration of the building. JS and DJ asked a number of detailed questions relating to the building use by local communities of interest. MC broached the subject of window coverings and expounded on the virtues of red gingham blinds over green paisley curtains. SC guaranteed that AC’s brother’s building firm, Cartwrights, will give the charity a good price on the refurb. MC agreed that it will be unnecessary to get other quotes. AC mentioned that architect drawings were overkill and that ML could just tell his brother what she wanted.

6. Diversity strategy DJ left the room to take a call. MC and AC left the room for a comfort break. There wasn’t any time to cover the diversity strategy so it was (again) held over to the next meeting.

7. AOB ML asked whether anyone has heard from MS. He has been absent from the past eight meetings. DJ said he saw him at the pub last week and that he is just a bit busy. ML asked for the board’s agreement to recruit some trustees with experience in generating traded income. AC noted that the charity has not had any new trustees in more than 10 years and that he could not see any benefit in rocking the boat. There was a lengthy discussion about catering at the forthcoming strategy day. MC favoured a hot lunch. DJ preferred a buffet. And JS again gave a detailed analysis of what happens if she eats gluten.

The meeting ended at 7.30pm, moving imperceptibly into a board-wide analysis of the merits of Waitrose vs Sainsbury’s strawberries.

My imaginary charity is not at all unusual, isn’t on the rocks and wouldn’t be considered by many to have major governance failings. Hopefully your minutes aren’t “warts and all”. But if someone wrote an honest report of your organisation’s board meetings, what would make you cringe?

Penny Wilson is chief executive of Getting on Board. This article first appeared in Third Sector.

If reading this did indeed make you cringe, consider joining Getting on Board's free info webinar about our Transform programme which can help your board openly recruit, diversify and ultimately change its behaviour for the better.

Image by Francesco Ungaro from Pexels


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