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Transforming Volunteer Boards Through Tech Empowerment

From apathy to action: Transforming volunteer boards through tech empowerment


An engaged board is like the wind in the sails of your charity or nonprofit. It fosters innovation, helps navigate challenges and drives fundraising efforts. But how to achieve this level of engagement? Enter technology and board development — the secret weapons for enhancing board engagement.

Engagement doesn’t happen by accident. Instead, it’s the result of purposeful and consistent efforts and planning. Those efforts include strong onboarding programs and continuous board training and development. Board development helps members understand their governance roles and the legal responsibilities that come with those roles. It also builds the skills they need to be effective decision-makers, including the best ways to communicate and create consensus.

Technology as an enabler

Technology is central to board development efforts and an effective tool in creating and sustaining board member engagement. For example, Starfish Family Services, a US-based social service agency, has a 21-member board. Starfish has used BoardEffect board management platform to hold hybrid meetings where board members can attend in person or remotely. “Attendance has been through the roof since we introduced hybrid,” said Susan Bovair, Executive Assistant to the CEO and Board Liaison.

“Attendance has been through the roof since we introduced hybrid” – Susan Bovair, Executive Assistant to the CEO and Board Liaison.

Another organisation, the Pennsylvania Chamber of Commerce, has 62 top CEOs and C-suite executives serving on their board. It was often difficult to track meeting RSVPs from these busy executives, but knowing who will be attending so the meeting would have a quorum was important, according to Carissa Burgett, the chamber’s board administrator and assistant to the president and CEO.

Board members’ RSVPs are now tracked in the BoardEffect platform, so all the members can see who has replied and who might be the holdup, adding some accountability for board members. Burgett now has a 90-95% success rate on board member RSVPs. “Leveraging the platform to hold myself responsible and others responsible has been huge in guaranteeing the success of our board,” she says.

Board development builds skills and engagement

Board development plays a critical role in increasing board member engagement in mission-driven organisations by providing opportunities for learning, growth and connection. Part of the strength of volunteer boards comes from the diversity of backgrounds and experience of the members. However, it’s essential that both new and veteran board members understand how the organization and the board function. It also is essential that they have the knowledge and skills needed to take on challenges such as data privacy, cybersecurity and financial oversight.

Creating a culture of engagement is the responsibility of all board members and organisation leadership. This culture consists of easy access to information, strong lines of communication and accountability. A development and training program that emphasises this culture gives members the skills and knowledge they need to participate and succeed.

Barriers to board member engagement

Disengagement happens among board members for many reasons. Some reasons may be personal or professional. They may be shut out of discussions, discouraged from asking questions or speaking out. They may not have easy access to the information they need to participate fully. Without the tools they need, some board members can become disengaged or apathetic. If their voices are excluded or withheld, the board loses effectiveness as a governing body.

Common barriers to board engagement include:

  • Time constraints: Volunteer board members have busy schedules with professional, personal, and other volunteer commitments, making it challenging to dedicate sufficient time to board activities and training.
  • Limited access to information: Without centralised systems or efficient communication channels, board members may struggle to access timely and relevant information needed for preparation for board meetings and informed decision-making.
  • Lack of direction: Board members may disengage if they feel unclear about their roles, responsibilities, the expectations of what they should fulfil during their tenure or the organization’s goals and priorities.
  • Ineffective communication: Poor communication practices, such as unclear agendas, long or unproductive meetings, or insufficient follow-up, can create confusion or frustration among board members.
  • Insufficient training or support: Board members may feel ill-equipped to fulfill their duties if they haven’t received sufficient training or resources, or if they don’t receive ongoing support.

Addressing these barriers requires using efficient communication channels, providing comprehensive training and support, creating a culture of transparency and accountability, and leveraging technology to enable access to training and information and streamline board meetings.

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The role of technology in board engagement

Technology plays a crucial role in enhancing board engagement in organisations by enabling communication, collaboration and information sharing among board members.

Here are some key aspects of technology’s role in board engagement:


Board portals, email, instant messaging and virtual meeting platforms allow board members to stay connected and informed about organizational activities, discussions and decisions.

Information sharing

Board management software centralises documents, reports and other important information in a secure digital repository. This ensures that board members have easy access to relevant materials, reducing the barriers to information and enabling informed decision-making. This software offers a secure way to access and store sensitive information and documents, an advantage over potentially insecure email or public file-sharing platforms.


Technology makes collaboration among board members easier by providing tools for sharing documents, editing files collaboratively and working on projects together. Online discussion groups, shared calendars and task management platforms streamline collaboration and promote active engagement.

Meeting management

Technology can help make meeting preparation easier, streamlining the process of agenda management. Board members feel better prepared for meetings when they can access agenda and board packets seamlessly at their convenience.

Transparency and accountability

Technology promotes transparency by providing visibility into board activities, discussions and decisions. Being able to access information quickly, such as meeting agendas, minutes and financial and other key reports, including past information, all advance accountability and trust.


By automating administrative tasks such as meeting scheduling, agenda preparation and document distribution, technology saves time and resources for both board members and administrative staff. This allows board members to focus their energy on strategic discussions and decision-making to help advance their organisation’s goals and mission.

Leveraging technology for engagement

Incorporating technology and board development into governance practices can strengthen board effectiveness and engagement. Here are some tips for strategies you can implement:

  • Conduct a needs assessment: Start by assessing the current state of board engagement and identifying areas for improvement. Understand the technological proficiency and development needs of board members.
  • Invest in board management software: A board management software like BoardEffect streamlines communication, secure document sharing and meeting management.
  • Provide training and support: Offer comprehensive training sessions or workshops on how to use the board management software effectively. The onboarding and training period for new members is an optimal time to set expectations about how board members and administrators will use the platform for board work. Ongoing support and resources will help board members navigate the platform and get the most out of it.
  • Use technology features to directly engage board members: Encourage board participation by using the board platform to send messages about board business and meetings and use surveys and polls to gather information from members.
  • Offer development programs and certifications: Cover topics such as governance best practices, strategic planning, cyber security or diversity, equity and inclusion to enhance board members’ skills and knowledge.
  • Encourage collaboration: Use collaborative tools within the board management software to facilitate discussions among board members, share resources and work on projects.
  • Seek feedback and evaluation: Continuously solicit feedback from board members regarding their experience with technology and development initiatives. Use this feedback to tailor future efforts to meet their needs.
  • Lead by example: Actively engage with technology and development initiatives. Demonstrate the value of these approaches and how they contribute to the organisation’s success.

Increase your impact with technology to enhance board engagement

By leveraging technology and investing in board development, organisations can create an environment that fosters active participation, collaboration and innovation among its volunteer board members. This environment will help keep board members engaged in their role and the work they do for the board. Ultimately, this leads to more effective governance, better decision-making and increased impact in advancing the organisation’s mission and serving its community.

BoardEffect is designed with the unique needs of volunteer boards in mind. The board management software streamlines board processes, enhances communication and promotes accountability, facilitating training and engagement.

Diligent Institute offers certification programs that include AI Ethics & Board Oversight Certification, Climate Leadership Certification and Cyber Risk & Strategy Certification.

Kathleen Vail

Kathleen Vail is a writer and editor in Northern Virginia. She has been covering education and board governance issues at the local and national level for more than 30 years.

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