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How to chair a trustee meeting

Are you a trustee nervous about running your first trustee meeting? Don’t worry! Whilst every chair operates differently, here are some guidelines and common practices for each step of a standard meeting.

1

Apologies

It is important that absent trustees are noted, especially for when the board makes decisions that they weren’t a party to. Your minutes guide the board and any external parties who may want to review your meeting, so it’s essential to note these down accurately.

2

Declarations of interest

Whilst most charities have a register of trustees’ potential conflicts of interest, it is worthwhile to ask for any new declarations at the beginning of every meeting.

3

Minutes from the last meeting

This is almost a universal standard. It allows trustees to raise follow-up questions from previous issues rather than use the main meeting to repeat what’s already been discussed in the past. It’s also a useful reminder of what occurred at the last meeting, which is usually months ago from the next one – trustees might have forgotten what decisions they’ve made.

4

Setting the agenda

This is the trickiest part for a chair. You never know how long a discussion may take, but it’s usually best to set time limits to each agenda item.

Naturally, some items need more time allocated to them than others. As chair, you may want to repeatedly ask, ‘What exactly are we asking the board to do in this meeting? Which items are substantial?’ Many other items can be listed as ‘for information,’ which you can breeze through if they do not require specific decisions to be made.

Sometimes you may find yourself cutting the conversation because it’s taken up too much time – trustees’ interventions can often spin off on a tangent and it’s important that the chair can bring it back to the agenda.

5

Discussing agenda items

A chair is a facilitator, so you should remember that you may have to encourage the quieter ones among the group by asking direct questions or going round the table to ensure everyone has had the space to contribute.

Depending on capacity, you may want to delegate some items of work to a sub group. You should check with subgroup chairs whether they have any reports for the meeting.

An action register is a useful tool to help track what actions have been assigned for each agenda item; that way, you will be able to use this as a checklist for your second meeting and see if everyone has done what they were supposed to do.

6

Any other business (A.O.B.)

It’s important to give trustees the opportunity to raise matters that have not appeared in the minutes of the last meeting or have not appeared in your current meeting. Chairs may prefer to ask for advanced notice of A.O.B before the meeting formally commences. This can be helpful if the issue at hand is to be dealt with at the upcoming meeting or whether it’s something that can be dealt with outside of it.

7

Closed session

Many chairs like to offer trustees the space to discuss matters without any executive members in the room. These sessions usually take ten minutes and give trustees the opportunity to ask the chair questions about the executives’ individual performance in a way that doesn’t undermine them in front of their colleagues. 

8

Dates of the next meeting

It is always wise to clarify when the next date is, as you may receive apologies there and then. It’s also good to know if too many trustees will be absent so you can avoid not being in quorum and having to reschedule.

Further information

Leon Ward contributed to this how-to guide, which was adapted from a guide which first appeared in TheBigGive. Follow Leon on Twitter.

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Page last edited May 13, 2016 History

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