Nonprofit Governance
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Jill Holtz
Content Strategy Manager

Optimizing board engagement: Leveraging collaboration solutions for nonprofit success

August 22, 2023
0 min read
Optimizing Board Engagement: Leveraging Collaboration Solutions for Nonprofit Success

Successful nonprofits depend upon their dedicated boards to steer the ship toward its goals. Board members are the ship's captains, using their experience to navigate the choppy waters of nonprofit governance. But ensuring their engagement and active participation can often be challenging — after all, volunteer board members have a range of responsibilities beyond those of the boardroom.

To drive progress and keep engagement strong, it's crucial for your board to communicate and work together effectively. While technology isn't the only factor that can drive these improvements, it's an important part of the solution. In a world that is rapidly evolving and becoming more interconnected, relying solely on traditional methods of collaboration is not sufficient.

Ad-hoc, disorganized or poorly designed communication processes present many issues. They can impact not only the efficiency of your board's working habits, but also critical areas like cybersecurity. To optimize board engagement, nonprofit organizations should consider how they can harness the power of modern technology and digital collaboration tools.

Keeping board members engaged

The importance of board member engagement cannot be overstated. An engaged board fosters innovation, helps navigate challenges and drives fundraising efforts.

There are many factors that can facilitate greater board member engagement. These include:

  • Outlining clear roles and expectations for each member
  • Fostering a culture of inclusion and participation
  • Ensuring that each board member is recognized and appreciated
  • Keeping meetings efficient
  • Prioritizing the work of the board among other responsibilities

Even considered on their own, each of these factors poses a significant threat to how well the board functions. But taken together, they can become a formidable set of obstacles, stymieing collaboration and torpedoing effective governance.

Communication with and between board members

Solving for these factors involves clear and timely communication with and between board members. While this may sound simple, there are a number of touch points where it can go wrong: board meetings, agendas, shared documents, minutes and other materials are all opportunities for dysfunction to insert itself.

To create a strong culture of communication, boards often use collaboration tools and software to help manage these documents and maintain a single platform where board business can be conducted. This brings consistency and comprehensiveness to a board's operations.

It also creates clear digital trails, which build transparent communication and enhance decision-making and engagement.

Securing your board communications

The fact that these tools house all board processes and documents in one place, however, makes tight security essential. High-level communications are sensitive and proprietary, and a data breach is not a risk any organization should be willing to take. Choosing the best collaboration tools therefore is not simply a matter of functionality, or price: boards must ensure that the information they funnel through these platforms will not leak anywhere else.

For many nonprofits, however, the cost of tools is often a paramount concern, which can cause boards to feel cornered into using tools that are developed in-house, ad-hoc, non-purpose-built, or free. The downside of going the in-house solution route? It might cost your organization more in the long term if it results in a data breach.

Security aside, non-purpose-built technologies often fail in terms of user-friendliness and seamless integration. Choosing the wrong technology to support board functioning will not be an easy matter of iteration and course correction. As well as potential data breaches, it can result in inefficiencies and frustration among board members, hindering effective teamwork and leading to disengagement.

Getting the most of a board collaboration solution

As discussed, board collaboration tools are crucial in enhancing engagement and streamlining board functioning. They put the various documents and processes that constitute a board's work in one accessible and secure place.

But even after solving for security issues, there are subtler considerations that must be thought through.

After all, even if a tool is perfectly suited to the needs of an organization, and fully secure, its value can only be realized when all board members actively embrace it. In other words, it doesn’t matter how good it is if nobody uses it. There are two crucial aspects to consider here: usability and adoption.

In the first case, whatever tools get chosen must be intuitive and user-friendly. Board members are busy and are not always tech-savvy. Any tool they use needs to walk a fine line between being simple enough to navigate and complex enough to capture the reality of the organization. It should be easier to work with the tool than to work around it.

But good use of tools is a two-way street. To adopt them effectively, boards need to be committed to learning about the tools and their functionality, and willing to experiment and deviate from established habits. Clear communication about the benefits of the collaboration solution, coupled with training sessions, can ease the transition. Active engagement from all board members is necessary to create a culture where the solution becomes an indispensable part of their workflow.

Strengthening board engagement through collaboration

When collaboration thrives within a board, the entire governance process strengthens. Seamless communication and efficient collaboration lead to better board meetings, enabling timely decision-making and focused discussions. This, in turn, translates to more strategic planning and data-driven decisions that are better aligned with the organization's mission.

Effective collaboration also ensures board continuity. Board members should be able to contribute regardless of their physical location, time zone, or other commitments. Good collaboration tools are not an end in themselves; their utility should be measured by their ability to help translate their organization’s mission into concrete achievements. But a disorganized board cannot achieve anything. By embracing modern collaboration solutions, nonprofits will enable their boards to collaborate effectively and help them bring the ideals of the organization into reality.

Learn more at Modern Governance Summit 2023

Want to learn more about driving engagement for your nonprofit board? Join us at this year's Modern Governance Summit to hear Carissa Burgett, Assistant to the President and Board Administrator for the PA Chamber of Business and Industry, explore how board collaboration solutions can lead to better board engagement and stronger communication.

MGS will take place September 13-15 in Orlando, Florida. Learn more and register here.


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