Mr. Wolfe Goes to Washington


The rookie's first Board meeting, part 1

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The rookie's first Board meeting, part 2



15 June 2005, Alexandria, VA

Along with the rest of the rookie directors, I arrive in Alexandria the Wednesday before the June board meeting. Incoming directors, who do not take office until July, attend the June board meeting so they can learn how board meetings work before being required to participate.

Our preparation for this meeting began well before we arrived. For each meeting, board members are required to read an amazing number of reports submitted by Institute directors, officers, committees, and task teams. Other mandatory reading includes the board operating guide, Institute policies, staff lists, committee appointments, expense forms, teleconference instructions, and other odds and ends; altogether, there are about fifty documents to read. Whew!

The orientation for incoming directors and officers is long as there is a lot to learn. For many of us, this is the first time we see what goes into budgets, schedules, and planning for the many events we enjoy each year. Thursday morning starts with introductions, followed by explanations of bylaws, board policies, and our responsibilities as members of the board. We end the morning with a game of "Board Guide Jeopardy."

After lunch, Executive Director Karl Borgstrom discusses our strategic plan; treasurer Gene Valentine explains our budget, with countless graphs to illustrate where we have been and where we are going; and we end the day with discussions of board meeting structure and schedules, parliamentary procedure, reports, and committee appointments. And then, after a few extracurricular evening conversations, it's off to bed, with visions of financial reports dancing in my head…

Friday morning's feature event is a trip to CSI offices. Here we meet the staff, learn about their part of the operation, and are entertained by a silly string sneak attack. This is a hard-working group that doesn't get much credit for the work they do. (We'll revisit this in a later column.)

Director Wolfe meditating at CSI headquarters

My first board meeting

After Friday lunch, I attend my first real, live, honest-to-gosh meeting of CSI's Board of Directors. Incoming officers also attend, but they have served previously, so for them, it's no big deal. Some Institute directors also have previous service. But for me, it's my first time, and I enter with great expectations.

The current directors and officers take their places in the center of the room, while the rookies take seats in the rear - in the Peanut Gallery (also known by other less dignified names). Incoming directors and officers are free to take part in discussions, but do not vote.

Having attended numerous chapter board and committee meetings, I have often felt we could do a better job. Despite the best intentions of the president or committee chair, the meetings quickly degenerate into random conversations and multiple simultaneous discussions. They also tend to run longer than scheduled, or are adjourned before all agenda items have been addressed.

The meeting of the Institute board of directors was a pleasant surprise and, to me, an impressive display of an orderly meeting. Afterward, I think we should be able to do the same thing at our chapter meetings, but on reflection I realize there is a trick - there isn't just one meeting, but three!

The first of these meetings, the Recommendations/Issues Workshop, takes place Wednesday afternoon. This meeting is not a formal meeting of the board of directors. There is an agenda, and some rules of order are observed, but the discussion is free flowing. Even so, the meeting is orderly and, despite straying a few times, we stick to the agenda, cover everything, and finish on time. In a sense, this meeting allows everyone to speak their minds without worrying about motions, votes, and other formalities.

Another result of this first meeting is completion of a consent agenda. This is a great device that speeds up the formal board meeting by deciding in advance what will be discussed. For example, one of the items on the board meeting agenda might be a report from the Director of Extraplanetary Chapters. Board members, having read the report before coming to the meeting, may decide there is nothing to discuss, and agree to put it on the consent agenda. When the board of directors meets in formal session, everything on the consent agenda is accepted by a single motion, rather than bringing up each item separately. Anyone is free to keep items off the consent agenda, and this right is exercised several times in the Wednesday meeting.

© 2006 Sheldon Wolfe, RA, FCSI, CCS, CCCA, 

photo courtesy of Joy Davis, CSI

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