Consent agendas: a time-conscious board member’s best friend

Consent agendas: a time-conscious board member’s best friend

Updated: March 29, 2024
7 min read
consent agenda
Post link has been copied

According to the MIT Sloan School of Management article, board meetings typically last three to four hours. Meanwhile, 42% of workers, including executives, feel they waste at least a quarter of every meeting, Financial Times concludes.

Indeed, there’s nothing worse than board meetings that spend too long on nonurgent topics that should necessitate minimal discussion.

Yes, rudimentary policies and procedures issues should always remain under some scrutiny, at least. But that doesn’t mean these items should chew into the time allotted for more pressing matters. To combat such an obstacle, executives adapt agendas to specific needs, including time-saving. 

According to the Deloitte Board Practices report, 24% of board members adapted agendas to allocate more time for strategic decisions in 2022. Sixteen percent adjusted agendas to allow more discussion on specific topics, like risks, and 9% used consent calendars. 

A consent calendar (agenda) is a list of routine items that don’t require discussion or amendment.

With a consent calendar, routine and/or straightforward meeting items are consolidated into one agenda item. Instead of multiple motions, the board can pass these items in one action.

By definition, the correct use of consent items can cut board meetings’ run times down by up to a half-hour. It minimizes discussion over ordinary matters and saves everyone’s mental effort and valuable time. Even if it saves just 3 minutes, every second matters — specifically, when those seconds are spent strategizing over high-priority items.

consent agenda WP
DOWNLOAD PDF

What is a consent agenda, and how does it work?

The consent calendar is a notion originally introduced in Robert’s Rules of Order, one of the most reputable and widely used guidelines for board meetings. According to Robert’s Rules, consent agenda creation requires the following steps:

  1. Create a regular meeting agenda. The secretary makes a meeting structure and filters potential non-controversial items out. 
  2. List consent items. The secretary puts consent items on agenda, from the highest priority to the lowest. Such agenda can be part of the regular meeting structure or attached separately.
  3. Approve the consent items before the meeting. The secretary sends the meeting agenda and the list of non-controversial items to the chairman for approval. 
  4. Circulate the approved agenda. The secretary gives the agenda to board members with enough time for them to examine its contents.

Benefits of consent agendas

A consent calendar offers several benefits:

  • Fewer repetitive tasks. It transforms ineffective board practices by reducing repetitive tasks. 
  • Shorter meetings. It can shorten a meeting by 30 minutes for most boards and promote better engagement.
  • More informed decisions. It helps board members focus on business questions that matter. These items receive more attention, increase awareness, and promote informed decision-making.
  • Better performance. Shorter meetings and better focus on critical matters improve overall board performance. The more deeply directors assess these questions, the more efficiently they govern their organizations.

See how we can support your board meetings

It should include the following items:

  • Financial statements, payments, donations, and grants
  • Non-actionable reports (for information only), such as monthly status reports
  • Committee reports
  • Committee appointments
  • Volunteer and staff appointments
  • Meeting minutes
  • CEO reports
  • Chairman’s reports
  • Department reports
  • Non-actionable correspondence
  • Updates to the organization’s information, like email addresses, phone numbers, etc.
  • Any perfunctory item that involved a lot of past discussions but still requires formal confirmation

It’s vital to reiterate that these are all topics that require very little mulling over. When utilized with the above items, a routine agenda is like a Swiss army knife that cuts the excess fat out of board meetings.

Best practices for creating consent calendars

Experienced directors use the following practices while creating consent agendas:

  • Establish the consent item policy. Detailed criteria for non-discussion business items ensure the board makes non-controversial consent agendas consistently.
  • Explain items in detail. Carefully revise business matters and attach full versions of all supporting documents, like reports, meeting minutes, or resolutions while forming a consent calendar. It will minimize potential discussion over those items.
  • Share agendas in advance. Prepare regular and consent agendas several weeks before the meeting. Ensure other members have at least one week to process routine items and make necessary changes.
  • Refine policies. You should improve consent item criteria if board members address and discuss associated items frequently. Reviewing past meeting minutes helps you track the agenda performance.

Check how to write effective meeting minutes to monitor your agenda performance.

Missteps with consent agendas

Check these five common mistakes when creating and managing consent agendas:

  1. Lack of agenda review. Sometimes directors approve its contents without adequate assessment. Cover-ups have occurred due to rushed approvals in many boardrooms throughout history.
  2. Important issues as “non-controversial” items. For instance, when directors fail to review financial items adequately, it can snowball into overspending or unsound fiscal decisions. All because specific members failed to assess topics that they thought were non-controversial — but were indicative of a discrepancy.
  3. Vague agenda item descriptions. One should provide enough detail on each agenda item and attach supporting documents if necessary. It will help the directors ensure their non-controversial nature.
  4. Too many items. Including routine 12-15 items may complicate your meeting process. You will risk including controversial matters. Aim at three or five items for one meeting.
  5. Not including consent agendas in meeting minutes. Your meeting minutes should specify each routine item. Failing to record these matters in detail may also lead to a snowball effect and hinder boards’ decisions.

The best consent agenda format

Here is an example of a consent calendar in the meeting structure.

This template differs from a standard meeting structure presented in Robert’s Rules. If you use Robert’s Rules of Order, you should adopt the routine agenda by amending the existing meeting structure under your organization’s bylaws. You can make a resolution or circular motions for this.

Executives may not need to adopt the agenda in subsequent gatherings if they receive meeting materials in advance.

Best practices for consent agenda in board meetings

Below, you can check the three best practices to excel at consent agendas in board meetings:

  1. Follow consent agenda rules cheat sheet
  2. Incorporate technology
  3. Use a consent agenda wisely

Follow consent agenda rules cheat sheet

Robert’s rules of order describe the following consent agenda process for smooth meetings:

  • Routine business matters come first. It should be placed as high in the regular agenda order as possible. Typically, it becomes the first item after the call to order.
  • The chair adopts the consent agenda. The chair reads out the remaining consent items if none require moving or if all have been moved. The chair moves to adopt the calendar. If there is no objection or conflict of interest, the chair can announce the passing of the items under unanimous consent.

Incorporate technology

Based on the Deloitte survey, only 31 out of 100 companies have tech-savvy board members. These businesses and organizations have 8% higher stock performance than companies without tech-savvy boards.

More businesses and nonprofits embrace digital tools for data-driven and agile governance. They use board portals to enable digital consent agendas with the following benefits:

  • Simple agenda management. You can create, share, approve, or amend consent agendas in a board portal thanks to a file repository with full-text search, user roles, and approval workflows.
  • Superior board engagement. You can invite board members to an agenda item and assign tasks before, during, and after meetings.
  • Convenient meeting management. You can vote for the agenda items during the meeting, register votes automatically, and generate activity reports.

Use a consent agenda wisely

Make sure that routine items are truly non-controversial. Otherwise, they will become an excuse for not fulfilling board duties. Such cases took place recently. 

Thus, the Ohio Supreme Court concluded that a meeting by the Portage County Board of County Commissioners violated the Open Meetings Act while using the routine calendar.

The authority consolidated all items from the regular agenda to the consent one and adjourned the meeting one minute after its beginning. 

Public organizations should also consult lawyers before adopting consent agendas to ensure they comply with open meeting laws.

There is both a time and place for consent agendas — but when used soundly, they promote time efficiency and prioritize what’s most critical to an organization. 

To create efficient consent agendas, the board should establish criteria for associated business items and describe them in detail to avoid unnecessary discussion. Besides, the board secretary should circulate the agenda in advance.

Boards can also consider board management software a reliable investment in productive meetings. iDeals Board will help you easily create, distribute, amend, and vote for digital agendas. You will have complete control over attendance, meeting minutes, and user activity, like votes and motions.

FAQs

What does the consent agenda mean?

The meaning of a consent calendar is to list non-controversial business matters in a single agenda item for one single motion during the board meeting.

What is a routine agenda vs. regular meeting agenda?

The routine agenda is a part of the regular agenda and should be the first item after the call to order.

What not to include in a consent agenda?

You should not include topics and concerns that require discussion and cause concern.

Do you need a motion to approve the agenda?

Board members need to approve the routine agenda before implementing one during meetings.

See how can we support your board meeting

Explore our comprehensive solution designed to optimize every aspect of your board meetings