Meetings and Greetings with Purpose

8 takeaways to make your gatherings — be it a staff meeting, board retreat or birthday celebration — more meaningful.

Jul 25, 2023  |  By Jeff Shields, FASAE, CAE

Jeffrey Shields, FASAE, CAE
NBOA President and CEO

The NBOA Board of Directors’ executive committee is hard at work this week, gathered at the DC headquarters to review strategic goals and maximize the Board’s work for the new fiscal year. There is plenty to say about what lies ahead for our association, both short-term and long. But I wish to take this opportunity to share some of the learnings I took away from the NBOA staff’s summer offsite retreat, held two weeks ago at Kingsley Montessori School in downtown Boston.

First, I must acknowledge the hospitality that was provided to us by the Kingsley staff, and especially outgoing business officer James Bonsey – who also delivered a top-notch, insightful and inspiring presentation on Kingsley’s finances and operations. Learning more about and physically working in a member school for a few days each year brings every NBOA staff member closer to our mission and truly elevates us to do our best work. While James is headed to Tabor Academy in Marion, Massachusetts, later this summer, to be the new associate head for finance and operations/CFO, he was clear that Kingsley is a special school. We could see it and feel it, particularly when young summer campers filed in the doors each morning at the same time we did. It was truly a wonderful experience at Kinsley.

Our agenda for this precious time together, whereby the entire NBOA staff is in the same city and the same space, was set with many presentations and discussions to advance our work on behalf of members, our own professional development and a staff culture that supports both. We made time for reflections on the past year from yours truly in the form of KPIs, strategic priorities and key initiatives, and also heard from experts in project management and diversity, equity and inclusion among other discussions.

One that spoke loudly and clearly to us, and may do the same for you, was around Priya Parker’s book, “ The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters.” Of course, as a national nonprofit association, NBOA has a primary charge to gather our members to learn, network and grow. However, as Parker points out, all of us gather, be it personally or professionally, and all of us can make those gatherings more intentional and meaningful. A shout out goes to Susan Lansverk, assistant head of school for finance & operations at University Prep in Seattle, who just stepped off the NBOA Board and put this book on our radar screen because she found it to be personally transformative. After learning more about the concepts, I can see why.

We had just the right experts on hand to shepherd us through Parker’s insights — namely, members of NBOA’s learning team, who develop and deliver NBOA’s many programs, both in-person and online, throughout the year. As a team, they digested the book, while the remainder of us watched Parker’s TED talk and listened to a podcast with Parker and Brené Brown before hearing their presentation.

NBOA Staff dinner

As an extrovert, I never need convincing that gatherings serve a distinct purpose. But post pandemic, when many of us learned to entertain ourselves at a distance, it’s fair to ask the question, why gather at all? Parker says that “Gatherings, in my opinion, at their best, allow us to be among others, to be seen for who we are and to see.” Whatever our preferred level of interaction, being with other people provides distinct benefits that other opportunities cannot.

Too many gatherings, however, are planned more with the “what” in mind than the “why.” Be it a staff meeting or national conference, birthday party or baby shower, Parker offers a number of takeaways for all of us to get the most out of a gathering. Here are eight key takeaways, courtesy of the staff members that comprise the NBOA learning team:

  1. Gatherings are important to the human experience, but too often we don’t give them much thought.
  2. Committing to a clear purpose for your gathering is the first step to making it great.
  3. Willingness to exclude people that are not essential to the gathering’s purpose is a key step towards building a meaningful experience for those that are present.
  4. Hosts who act with generous authority will always deliver better events than hosts who are overly laid-back.
  5. Having explicit rules for your events can be surprisingly liberating. Attendees understand what is expected and therefore can engage with greater confidence. “Rules of engagement” can also help more introverted members of your staff.
  6. Priming your guests well and honoring them on arrival will help get your gathering off to a great start.
  7. It’s possible to design your gathering to encourage people to bring out their authentic selves.
  8. Too many events fizzle out rather than ending with a bang, but there are simple ways to end gatherings well. (This is my personal a-ha and one I plan on considering for upcoming meetings of the NBOA Board of Directors)

Parker also goes into the anatomy of a gathering – priming, which begins as soon as an attendee learns of the event; ushering, the transition into the actual event; launching, the start of the event; the meeting, the meat of the event; and the “last call” or closing of the event. And she provides insights on how to make each of these steps more impactful. For more on any of these areas, I urge you to read the book. 

I hope you are gathering meaningfully for personal and professional reasons this summer — be it with family or friends during time off, or the administrative team or the board of trustees during your summer retreats. I’m pleased to report that NBOA’s offsite gathering this July was highly purposeful and productive, and I wish all the same and more for yours!

Jeff Shields signature


Jeff Shields

Jeffrey Shields, FASAE, CAE

President and CEO


Washington, DC

Jeff Shields, FASAE, CAE, has served as president and CEO of the NBOA since March 2010. NBOA is the premier national association serving the needs of business officers and business operations staff at independent schools. Shields, an active member of the American Society of Association Executives, has been recognized as an ASAE Fellow (FASAE) and earned the Certified Association Executive (CAE) professional designation. His current board service includes serving as a director for AMHIC, a healthcare consortium for educational associations in Washington, DC, as well as a trustee for the Enrollment Management Association. Previous board service includes serving as a director for the American Society of Association Executives, as a director for One Schoolhouse, an innovative online school offering supplemental education to independent schools, and as a trustee for Georgetown Day School in Washington, DC. Shields holds a BA from Shippensburg University and an MA from The Ohio State University.

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