With the pandemic’s turbulent effects on society, nonprofits like yours are relying more than ever on their boards to overcome the financial constraints and community engagement challenges that arise. However, remote operations are the new norm thanks to social distancing recommendations, making effective board management challenging. Boards are struggling to collaborate, make important decisions, and generate community support.
Thankfully, today’s technological landscape is rapidly advancing, and the best way to surpass these challenges is by going virtual!
Virtual board meetings are the safest option to be mindful of any health concerns. There’s no need to worry about keeping six feet apart or wearing masks throughout the entire meeting, because they’re held entirely online. When implemented strategically, your online meetings can be just as, if not more, engaging than in-person ones. But what does moving your board meetings to the digital space entail?
This guide will explore the ins and outs of virtual board meetings, from the benefits you’ll experience all the way to selecting the right meeting software. Here’s what we’ll cover:
- The Basics of Virtual Board Meetings
- Tips for Hosting Engaging Digital Board Meetings
- How to Select Virtual Board Meeting Software
Going digital doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice board member engagement. Ready to successfully transition to virtual board meetings? Let’s kick things off with a basic overview of what you should expect.
The Basics of Virtual Board Meetings
Like with any new process, you’ll want to nail down the basics before rolling it out to your team. This way, you’ll understand what to expect and won’t be thrown off-guard when challenges come your way. Or, perhaps you’re still contemplating if digital meetings are even right for your team.
Whichever applies to you, let’s briefly review the benefits and disadvantages of going digital to ease your concerns and fully prepare you for what lies ahead.
Whether you’re choosing virtual meetings as a long-term solution or a temporary one, there are several major benefits nonprofits experience. As explained in Boardable’s complete guide to virtual board meetings, three of the primary ones include:
- Increased attendance. While your board members are passionate about serving your organization, they lead busy lives outside of the boardroom. Offering a virtual option means you can eliminate travel expenses and minimize time commitments for attendees. This can be especially useful if you’re struggling to meet quorum.
- Greater board member diversity. Eliminate geographical barriers and expand your participant pool. Thanks to the expansive technological world, members from across state lines can join your team. Not to mention, technology also opens up opportunities for those with accessibility concerns (like hearing, physical, or visual impairments) to participate. A more diverse team with new perspectives will lead to insightful ideas and more well-rounded decisions.
- Improved nonprofit governance. Empower your board leadership to exercise effective governance and maintain more control over meetings. Effective meeting tools will allow them to keep discussions focused so your team can hold collaborative discussions and arrive at decisions much quicker.
The best part about these benefits is that they extend beyond the circumstances that are presented by the pandemic. Even once things return to normal, your team can still benefit from digital board meetings. At the very least, you can offer a remote option for those who prefer attending wherever they are, instead of making the commute to your office.
While largely beneficial, changing up your meetings can have its downsides if you’re not careful. Any major transition like this comes with its challenges, and being aware of them in advance allows you to get one step ahead and take the necessary precautions to avoid them.
When implementing a new digital format, expect some hiccups in the transition, including:
- Security challenges. Any time you transmit confidential information over the internet, there’s an inherent risk of a data breach. To mitigate this risk, make sure to outline security measures that your board members should follow. As your first line of defense, you should implement a secure platform, which we’ll discuss in-depth later on.
- Reduced engagement. Going remote can initially be intimidating for board members who aren’t used to communicating online. In turn, they may not be as willing to speak up, inhibiting your organization’s progress. We’ll explore specific strategies for overcoming this engagement hurdle in the following section.
- Reliance on technology. Introducing new technology often comes with hurdles and learning curves. If your platform is difficult to operate, your less tech-savvy attendees may be resistant to the change. Be sure to provide a user-friendly virtual meeting platform and walk them through how to use it.
Even after you’ve taken steps to address these hurdles, continue to stay on top of them so that they don’t resurface with time. As long as you stay aware of any potential pitfalls, you’ll be able to ease board members’ concerns and host problem-free virtual board meetings.
Tips for Hosting Engaging Digital Board Meetings
Now that you’re caught up on the benefits and challenges of remote meetings, it’s time to move on to specific strategies for adjusting to this new format. First and foremost, check that you can legally conduct virtual board meetings before building out your virtual meeting strategy.
There are two sources you’ll want to reference: state regulations and your organization’s bylaws. There may be restrictions in place for what is and what isn’t allowed in virtual meetings. For instance, there may be stipulations regarding whether you can vote remotely. Some nonprofit’s bylaws even prohibit virtual meetings completely. In this case, you might need to converse with the board chair to amend the rules before moving forward with regular board business.
Once all systems are go, you can continue making the transition and planning your meetings. To avoid the potential challenges we discussed earlier, here are some tips that will help guide your meetings and set them up for maximum productivity.
Send out dynamic agendas.
As described in this resource, your agenda “sets the tone for your meeting and determines how engaged (or disengaged) your board members will be.” While in-person meetings traditionally stick to paper agendas, a virtual meeting allows for extra capabilities like inline task delegation and easy access to documents.
When planning an online meeting, board leadership should develop specific discussion items. Each of these should have an allotted time, and the desired conclusion should be noted for each item—whether it’s to inform, seek information, or arrive at a decision. This allows you to move on as soon as the desired conclusion is reached, boosting productivity. From here, you can organize each item by importance to make sure the most significant discussions occur.
As a final note, distribute each agenda in advance so that attendees have plenty of time to propose adjustments and come prepared with valuable insights and questions.
Take comprehensive minutes.
Your minutes are the permanent, official documentation of your virtual meetings. Not only are they crucial for internal reference, but they also serve as a legal record if any complications arise.
With the importance of sufficient documentation, your designated minutes-taker (usually the board secretary) should stick to the facts and note all core discussions and decisions in a clear manner. This includes recording all motions verbatim. Make note of who made the motion, who seconded it, and what the consensus was.
Overall, take an approach that you’re writing for readers well into the future. Years down the line, none of your existing board members will be there to explain the rationale behind a particular decision. When it’s all said and done, proofread the minutes and distribute them to board members, including those who were absent.
Like we mentioned earlier, going digital can mean risking board member engagement. Combat this by requiring (or encouraging) people to use video during the meetings. This adds in that much-needed face-to-face element, so you won’t have to rely solely on audio to communicate. Video allows attendees to gauge others’ body language so that they can accurately tap into their nonverbal communication.
To successfully incorporate video conferencing into your digital meetings, share these tips with attendees:
- Test your Wi-Fi connection as well as your audio and video equipment before joining the call.
- Mute your microphone when you’re not speaking to eliminate excessive background noise.
- Raise your hand or send a chat to indicate that you have something to add so that the virtual boardroom remains orderly.
- Avoid distractions by only using one monitor and closing unnecessary tabs.
Implementing video and putting good call etiquette in place will ensure that your meeting goes off without a hitch. This extra layer of human contact will work wonders for your board’s productivity and help to build a positive atmosphere as you continue operating remotely.
How to Select Virtual Board Meeting Software
With a plan in place, you now need to implement efficient virtual meeting tools to back your efforts. Most platforms make it simple to host a meeting and record the conversation, but your board has a long list of other needs beyond that. From agenda-making to follow-up tasks, you’ll need a number of tools to fulfill your board’s needs.
Patching together several different systems can help facilitate your virtual meetings, but it opens up the possibility of more potential tech problems. Instead, the best approach is to ensure a single piece of software covers all your needs. At the very least, it should integrate with helpful third-party tools like Dropbox and Google Calendar.
Thankfully, the nonprofit tech landscape is constantly advancing. Now, dedicated board software can empower your team to centralize all communications, documents, meeting details, and even the meeting itself into a single platform. As explained in re:Charity’s guide to working from home, an effective board portal allows you to “host virtual meetings, build detailed agendas, and manage goals and tasks through completion. After all, an effective board is important for an effective organization.”
If you’re looking to invest in specialized board software, be on the lookout for these three core features to run efficient virtual meetings:
- Secure document storage. From governing documents to financial reports, your board handles and produces an incredible amount of documents. A dedicated document management system will help centralize everything in one convenient location. Plus, administrators will be able to restrict access to certain users. Be sure your system also uses secure sockets layer (SSL) certification to encrypt data, so your team can safely transmit documents without concern.
- Task management. Maintaining productivity between virtual meetings can be challenging. Boost accountability by assigning tasks during and between your meetings. That way, everyone can keep up with which duties they’re expected to fulfill, and board leadership can reach out to anyone who hasn’t followed through.
- Video conferencing tools. As we explored in the last section, video is an important part of maintaining engagement during your meetings. Go with a board management platform that offers in-app video conferencing tools, so you don’t have to rely on a third-party platform. Plus, you’ll have immediate access to all other board tools, making it easy to pull up documents and assign tasks throughout the meeting.
Above all else, your tools should be user-friendly so that your board members aren’t resistant to the change. No matter how easy your tools are to use, remember to go the extra mile by providing sufficient instructions and support.
Selecting effective and easy-to-use tools will allow your board leadership to take complete control of your meetings and exercise good governance practices. In turn, you’ll notice that your team is just as productive (if not more productive) than they were at their in-person meetings.
Going virtual is unavoidable amidst the current pandemic. You can’t abandon your organization’s mission for months or even weeks at a time. With the tough decisions your nonprofit is likely facing right now, it’s more crucial than ever for your board to be able to communicate and provide strategic direction remotely.
Before kicking off your virtual meeting strategy, make sure to discuss the advantages and challenges with your board leadership. If you decide that virtual meetings are right for your team, you can start building your implementation strategy, starting with selecting the right platform to get you there. Good luck!
About Jeb Banner:
Jeb is the founder and CEO of Boardable, a nonprofit board management software provider. He is also the founder of two nonprofits, The Speak Easy and Musical Family Tree, as well as a board member of United Way of Central Indiana and ProAct. Jeb is based in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Boardable is an online board management portal that centralizes communication, document storage, meeting planning, and everything else that goes into running a board of directors.