How to Start a Non-Profit Organization: Step 3 – The First Board Meeting

Step three of starting a non-profit organization is gathering the potential board members for the first meeting. In step one; you formed a brain trust to validate the mission of the non-profit organization. In step two; you generated a list of potential board members by identifying sources and creating profiles. In this step, you have to get everyone together, present the mission to the group, get commitments to help, and set a date to legally form the non-profit organization.

The following illustrates each of these functions to successfully have your first board meeting.

Gather Together

Prior to the first meeting, you should have made contact via your mutual connection; this could be the church, one of the brain trust members, through one of the social or charity organizations etc. Contact this potential board member via phone or through a meeting. Make sure they know who you are and that you are interested in them becoming a potential board member for a non-profit organization. For some helpful hints during your initial meeting see The Value of a Handshake and a Smile. You need every potential board member to have already met you and understand why you are contacting them prior to the first meeting.

Now send out the formal invitation. This could be in the form of a letter with your personal letterhead. Don’t create a name yet, allow the board to create the name. You could also send out the notice via an invitation card.  Use some form of formal documentation for the invite. Make sure you provide adequate notification in the form of time before the meeting to ensure maximum attendance.

Anytime you need to gather more a couple of folks together, you need plenty of lead time or notification to ensure maximum attendance. This is important, if you can only get a half dozen folks together out of the 15 to 20 that you invited, then it will not look good in the eyes of the few gathered together. Provide adequate notification, at least three weeks. To do this correctly, reserve a conference room at your church. Set an evening time as this is generally the best time for most folks. Give them plenty of opportunity to have eaten dinner and travel to your meeting spot.

Now send out the formal letter or invitation. Ask for confirmation via e-mail by providing all your personal information, residential address, home phone number, cell phone number, e-mail addresses. Make sure the individual understands that you are easy to get a hold of for communication. Ask them to send you an e-mail so that you can put them on a group notification list. 

Once you have received confirmation of attendance, thank them via e-mail or a phone call. About one week out, send out a reminder to every one of the attendees of the date and time along with a map of how to get to the conference room from major intersections. On the Monday morning of the week of the meeting, send out another reminder of the date and time.


Get prepared. Make a great presentation in order to sell the idea to the potential board members. Remember, without a board, you are less likely to succeed and have access to the funding it will take to make this organization operate. This is where the brain trust input is helpful. Use their guidance and suggestions to present to the board.  Here are some suggestions:

1.  Prepare the room – hang photos, posters, drawings, some statistical information around the room for folks to preview prior to the meeting getting underway. Use an easel to stand out in the room with some really good information.  Set a table of refreshments for everyone to sample. Homemade items are the best.
2.  Create a portfolio of your presentation to each potential member and set them at each spot on the conference table. This gives those arriving early an opportunity to read or review.
3.  Greet them with a smile and a handshake and thank them for coming out to the meeting. Remake the connection with them as they arrive. Introduce them to others after your greeting. Remember to stay near the door and greet each potential board member one at time as they arrive.
4.  Start on time! This sets precedence and latecomers will understand.
5.  Start out your personal presentation with a thank you. Then provide some history as to how you got to this point. Tell them you had an idea, you formed a brain trust to test the idea and validate its value. Then you researched for potential board members, made contact with them and here we are in the same room.
6.  Now present the idea itself. Point out the issue at hand and the value you believe your solution will bring to the community and how you want to solve a problem. This is the meat of the whole meeting. Illustrate the issue, provide solutions and make a call to action. You need them to help by providing their insight and knowledge to create and run an organization to accomplish a particular mission.
7.  Keep the meeting to one hour. ONE HOUR!


Get the potential folks to commit to forming a board to start and organize a new non-profit with this mission in mind. Explain to them that the first year is about getting the charity documented, organized and developing a business plan for action. It will be mostly monthly meetings and some homework from each member during this time period. 

Ask them for input. Most will want to get involved in the details right away. Don’t go there yet. That will be done at the next meeting. If they talk about the mission and agree with the mission, that is good. But control the meeting so that it does not digress into non mission related areas. Examples include other charitable needs, business issues such as legal formation or tax issues. Keep the group on the mission of this charity and allow them to ask more about the mission. The next meeting is for the paperwork aspect. This meeting is designed to get them to commit as board members for a new charity. 

Set a date and time for the next meeting. Remind everyone that in the interim, think of other folks that they believe can help this new charity. Ask them to be thinking of a name, I’m sure you have an idea, but let the board develop the name. Get them to send you their ideas via e-mail and then you will combine the ideas and send them out to everyone well in advance of the first formal meeting. 

Thank them for taking time to come out and participate. Get them to take some of your home cooking with them (it acts as another reminder of who you are). 

Once the meeting is over, send a thank you via a card and an e-mail. Remind them of the next meeting date and time. Before the first formal meeting of the board of this new charity, remind everyone via e-mail that the next meeting is the formal creation of this charity. The next article will identify all the steps you need to take and get prepared for the organizational meeting of the new non-profit organization. Act on Knowledge.

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