Wednesday, January 3, 2018
Bring the Meeting to Order: 7 Steps for Choosing the Right Board Portal
Posted by Michael Boulton
There’s no getting around it: Preparing for a board meeting can be ponderous—and expensive—for a nonprofit.
Someone has to print, collate and distribute all those materials in advance of the meeting. Worse, board members aren’t able to receive last-minute updates or revisions to materials until they arrive at the meeting. Then there’s the issue of all those sensitive documents residing in email or on board members’ computers—outside the reach of your organizations’ data-security processes and procedures.
Centralize Board Information
More and more, nonprofits are saying goodbye to all this mess and turning to a dedicated board portal to make the process more efficient and secure. Meeting materials, organizational documents, task assignments and votes are all maintained in a single, secure location. Files are not left lingering on board members’ personal computers, and a designated officer can control access and security.
The right board portal can help centralize and streamline board-related information, including having the ability to do the following:
- Schedule meetings and create agendas
- Track RSVPs and attendance
- Share meeting minutes
- Create ballots and polls
- Automate email communication to be sent at regular intervals
The Elevator Is Broken
It’s easy to get starry eyed about the potential. But the truth is that deciding on the right board portal is not without its challenges. There’s no elevator to success—you’ve got to take the steps.
Step #1: Start with what is wrong. Make a critical assessment of your current board processes. What are the shortcomings, redundancies and inefficiencies? Does your board chair wait until the absolute last minute to communicate important details for the meeting? How about the committee chair who is constantly missing meetings because of a scheduling conflict?
Step #2: Identify the features you need/want. Translate the needs identified by your process assessment into software features that will address them—the ability to synchronize meetings to board members’ personal calendars, for example.
Step #3: Determine what systems need to integrate. Identify the databases, systems and technologies that must interact with your board portal. For example, consider if and how your donor management software will integrate with the portal.
Step #4: Make your case. Take the time to calculate your annual spend for board activities—from the hard costs of printing meeting materials to the administrative time and labor involved. To present a fuller picture of ROI, factor in savings on both fixed costs and intangibles, such as more effective board meetings and a more efficient board.
Step # 5: Run vendors through their paces. Shortlist potential software solutions and reach out to vendors for demos. Complete a side-by-side comparison of features and user experience, making note of platform flexibility and hosting (cloud-based or on-premises), as well as pricing structure (for example, annual license or per-user fees).
Step # 6: Get decision-makers at the table. Just like with any other major software decision, you’ll need to involve the right people in the process. For example, you can have your board chair and secretary evaluate the software from a board-member perspective. Administrative staff can review the top contenders as an end user. Finally, you’ll need someone from executive leadership with the financial authority to sign off on the chosen product.
Step #7: Make sure everyone loves their new portal. Change comes slowly. It helps if you can find a board member who will champion the process. Provide training to the group as a whole and then follow it up with individual training for those who aren’t quite picking it up. Then, consider transitioning to the new portal by running your current processes in tandem with the board portal for a few meetings. Once everyone is familiar with the new system, provide a hard switch-over date.
An engaged board is an effective board. By making it easier for them to do their job, a board portal can be a wise investment in your nonprofit’s governing body.
Contact your local Armanino office for guidance on board best practices—including use of a board portal.
Mike is a partner who provides assurance and technical accounting consulting services. He specializes in financial statement audits of nonprofit organizations and private and publicly held middle-market businesses. His nonprofit practice includes private foundations, charitable trusts, private education, religious entities, social services and performing arts organizations. His for-profit practice includes software as a service (SaaS), semiconductor and other technology equipment manufacturers. In addition to financial statement audits, he assists companies with financial statement reviews, compilations and general accounting consulting.
Active in his community, Mike serves on the board of the Downtown Streets Team in Palo Alto. He is a member of both the American Institute of CPAs and the California Society of CPAs. He earned his B.S. in accounting from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo.