Almost everyone welcomes new ways of doing things that create efficiency and savings. Technology is daily delivering innovative ways for us to do that. Not only are corporations open to learning about new ideas that streamline their operations, but they are looking to technology to invent new solutions for other, existing problems. Using electronics in governance is becoming a popular trend for nonprofit entities, as well as for-profit entities.
Nonprofit organizations have a lot to gain from using electronic devices and applications. As largely volunteer operations, nonprofit boards are happy to have their members spend less time in the boardroom and more time participating in volunteer activities. They’d also be elated to spend less of their donors’ money on paper and postage and to use the savings to invest in fundraising and other important nonprofit initiatives.
Newer generations have a greater comfort level with technology. As Generations X, Y (the millennials) and Z start to replace the baby boomers in the boardrooms of nonprofit organizations, there is bound to be some resistance to using electronic devices and software applications for nonprofit board business. Nonetheless, nonprofit organizations are finding tablets and board portal applications to be so useful that they’re willing to put in the time to learn how to make board work more efficient.
Nonprofit Boards Are Seeing More Electronic Tablets in the Boardroom
A survey by KPMG’s Audit Committee Institute showed a strong migration of tablets and board portal applications into nonprofit boardrooms. The survey showed that about 50% of boards are already using board portals. About 20% more boards reported that they intend to start using board portals within the coming year. Around 18% of board members are already using tablets, and another 20% of board directors said that they plan to utilize electronic tablets within a year. Smaller percentages of board members stated that they used other electronic devices for board business, like laptops, desktops and smartphones.
Usability and Security Are Incentives to Using Tablets and Applications
Many nonprofit board directors got their feet wet with technology by experimenting with teleconferences, videoconferences and Web meetings. When the bylaws allow it, these types of platforms allow for greater flexibility and larger group participation when board members can’t make it to meetings. There is a place in corporate and nonprofit business for teleconferences and Web conferences, but board portals combined with the mobility of tablets can do even more.
Electronic board books, like those offered by Diligent, let members download an entire board meeting packet as they sit right in their seats. The applications let board directors annotate documents right on their tablet without needing to search for pen and paper. Board directors can share comments and changes with their fellow board members or make notes for their own personal use.
Board members can also use board portals like BoardEffect to run slide presentations that other attendees can see at the same time. This process makes it easy for the presenter to share information and even easier for the attendees to review and to make comments.
Board members who use tablets save time when they don’t have to fumble around with large, clumsy binders, hunting for documents. All of the nonprofit’s documents are filed electronically, and board members can retrieve them in seconds. It also saves the secretary and the board chair time from having to print, collate and distribute copies of documents via postal mail. Using technology like electronic board books and board portals decreases meeting prep time from weeks to minutes.
Board portals and electronic board books can place all of the documents in order, number them and hyperlink them to the table of contents. Board directors can access the materials for board meetings by using the board portal. A slim, compact tablet replaces bulky binders with dog-eared pages.
Board portals include controls so that only the people who need certain functions can access them. The board can set up the portal to remind certain users to compile and upload assigned documents by a certain deadline. Board apps can restrict which users have access to particular areas. For example, only the board treasurer, secretary and board chair need access to the financial reports, but the full board needs access to the final version. For instance, committee documents can be restricted for use only by committee members.
Committees can use the board portal for sharing documents and add online chat platforms for remote discussions. Board directors can access documents online or print hard copies as long as they are saved using the appropriate formats.
Larger nonprofits may consider investing in enhanced versions of board portals. Expanded versions of board portals provide dedicated editorial workflows with the ability to accept multiple rounds of approvals. Some versions can document straw polls and official voting. The latest versions incorporate online conferencing formats so that board directors can conduct all of their board business right inside the board portal.
Most importantly, board portal software programs have robust encryption and built-in security measures to protect sensitive information from getting into the wrong hands.
Tablets and Board Portals Prove to Be Cost-effective
Nonprofits recognize that using tablets can substantially reduce their costs for paper, ink and postage. You may be wondering if the cost of the board portal and tablets offsets the expenses of office supplies. Some organizations have conducted a return on investment study in purchasing tablets and a board portal for the board. The results showed that the tablets and apps paid for themselves within the first four to six months of use.
Getting Baby Boomers Up to Speed with Technology
Transition is always hard, and transitioning with technology is especially difficult for those who don’t see the value in it, or who don’t want to take the time to understand it.
According to a 2010 BoardSource report, about 57% of nonprofit board directors are over the age of 50, as reported by chief executives. Board directors reported that about 71% of board members were over the age of 50.
Because older board directors have less familiarity with technology than younger directors, nonprofits can expect a little resistance when transitioning to using electronic tools and devices in the boardroom. In order to overcome this obstacle, nonprofit boards will need to recognize that there will be a learning curve as board directors learn how to use tablets and board portals. Boards can ease board director hesitancies by setting goals for how to use tablets and apps during meetings. All board members will need various levels of training on the apps and devices, with the option of additional coaching as needed.
Tablets and Board Portals Are the Wave of the Future
We are not very far away from the day when board binders will be extinct and essentially all nonprofit board business will take place through a board portal. Nonprofit boards that begin to integrate today’s technology into the boardroom will find that it will be easier to keep pace with technology rather than to catch up to it.
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