What to Put on a Consent Agenda

So, you’ve learned about the amazing efficiency tactic called the consent agenda: a single motion that passes multiple noncontroversial items. Now, you’re ready to streamline seven items into one and become your group’s hero by keeping the next meeting short. But… what are those items? How do you know what should or shouldn’t be included on a consent agenda? If you include an item that sparks debate, have you missed your entire goal of eliminating needless discussion and voting time? Not to worry. This post is a quick guide on what items might be suitable to place on a consent agenda.

The rule of thumb to remember is that these items should be noncontroversial. Here are some questions to help you determine whether an item belongs in the noncontroversial bucket.

  • Is this a familiar action, one that we take at many (or all) meetings?
  • Is the group extremely supportive of this action?
  • Have we already discussed and effectively agreed upon this action?
  • Is this action expected to pass unanimously and without discussion?

If the answer is “yes” to one or more of those questions, the item can likely be passed using a consent agenda. Often, items that meet the “noncontroversial” qualification fall into two (sometimes overlapping) categories: routine items and unanimously supported items. Here are some examples.

Routine Items

  • Accepting the minutes from a previous meeting
  • Finalizing scheduling matters (like the date and time of a future meeting)
  • Minor or routine changes in a policy or procedure
  • Standard contracts that are used regularly

Unanimously Supported Items

  • Confirming committee, staff, or volunteer appointments
  • Perfunctory items (formal approval of previously discussed items)

These categories can be helpful, but here’s the bottom line: items on a consent agenda should have so much support that the members are not likely to want to discuss them individually. While some of these examples could (in rare cases) become controversial, most of the time they have little or no potential for discussion, making them ideal for a consent agenda.

And one other note: the “noncontroversial” rule of thumb isn’t just for convenience; it’s a must for keeping your meetings ethical. The danger of a consent agenda is that in the wrong hands, this procedure could be used to deceive uninformed members into quickly consenting to items they actually oppose. The solution is to be sure to fully inform members about the consent agenda items so that approving them isn’t even a question. By ensuring that members are in the know and in agreement, you enable a consent agenda to fulfill its intended purpose—easily gaining everyone’s consent.

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