Consent Agendas: How you can maximize your time with your board

Board: Effective Governance
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Jul 2, 2014 | Blog

In a blog post last October, our Associate Executive Director Maria Turnbull highlighted the importance of building your board with ‘forest thinkers’. These individuals naturally focus on high level strategic direction, mission, relevance and values – rather than on operational details. 

Forest thinkers create an atmosphere that is conducive to governing, strategizing, and visioning; which are key activities for your board to perform effectively. A critical dimension to effective governance is inspiring these activities, and your forest thinkers, during board meetings. 

To inspire strategic thinking and visioning at board meetings, on a regular basis, they need to be well managed for time and attention. A consent agenda will free up board meetings for the discussion, and focus, on overall governance and strategic matters

What is a consent agenda? 

A consent agenda is a collection of items that are voted on at the board meeting, without discussion, as a package. Think of it as removing all items from your meeting agenda that are for review only. These items are distributed for reading in advance, while the board meeting is used for discussion of pertinent, strategic issues. 

To use a consent agenda, first identify which items on the agenda require discussion and which simply share information or require a decision. If the executive director’s report does not require any explicit discussion, it is included in the consent agenda. Financial reports and operational committee reports are also good candidates for the consent agenda. 

Consent agenda items are distributed well in advance of your board meeting for review by all directors. If a director wants clarification about any item in a report, they are responsible for following up with the person who drafted it before the meeting. At the meeting, the chair asks: “Are there any items you feel must be removed from the consent agenda?” Directors who feel an item warrants full board discussion can motion to remove it and put it onto the regular agenda. The chair then calls for a motion to approve all remaining items in the consent agenda without any discussion. 

The end result? Your board is free to move on to strategic matters, such as how the organization can remain relevant in 3-5 years, developing risk management policies, or setting out frameworks for new partnerships or fund development opportunities. 

Do your board meetings consist of reviewing items and reports, as opposed to actually discussing strategic issues or direction? Do you think a consent agenda would allow you to make better use of your time together? 

Mark Friesen headshot


Mark Friesen

Mark Friesen is the Executive Director at Columbia College, Canada’s longest established International not-for-profit college. He currently facilitates a monthly peer network of leaders dedicated to reimagining governance in the non-profit sector, and currently serves as Interim Chair of the Our Place Inner City Assembly. Mark has served as a volunteer, association founder, and an executive director, and has led fundraising, strategic planning and program development efforts in the sector for over 20 years. During his time at Vantage Point, BC’s leading not-for-profit capacity builder, Mark shifted his focus to governance; working with groups to enhance or redefine organizational decision making. Working with the Crown Agency Board Resourcing Office of BC, Mark guided the province to shift the governance and training material of BC’s public sector organizations away from shareholder accountability and towards governance in the public interest.

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