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Leveraging technology and development to engage volunteer board members


Keeping volunteer board members engaged can demand substantial time and energy from the nonprofit board administrator. To be effective in the role, you have to remind without nagging, support without suffocating and keep the board on track without fostering resentment.

It’s a fine line to walk, but there’s good news: technology and a fresh board trustee development strategy can help.

What are the benefits of embracing technology?

Here, we’ll take a look at some of the challenges board administrators face in fostering board engagement, how you can reimagine board member development and how to follow the path to an effective technology solution.

What are the benefits of embracing technology?

Challenges board administrators face with engaging their volunteer trustees

You may face some or all of these difficulties as you manage the needs of your organization’s board, all of which can lead to disengaged board members:

  • Time constraints. Board members are often busy people even before they begin their service. And the staff of mission-driven organizations are similarly doing more than time always permits.
  • Poor information resources. Organizations can struggle with not enough information or information that is hard to access, and trustees will disengage if they cannot find the information they need when they need it.
  • Lack of clarity on roles: When onboarding is a one-and-done experience, board members can be excused for not always understanding what they should and must be doing. An uncertain director may pull away from service opportunities.

A board that is not engaged will struggle with collaboration and effective decision-making — something you’ll see in living color when members are not prepared for the difficult discussions around board agenda items.

How to address potential obstacles in implementing technology solutions and board development initiatives

While tools and resources that support collaborative board work — from new training opportunities to a board management solution — can increase board engagement, you may be facing resistance in adopting new solutions for a number of reasons.

Resistance to change. Your board and staff may find the familiarity of training and communications resources to be hard to let go of, and in this era of overload, they may feel new solutions will just complicate the work.

With a tool designed specifically for the work — a board management solution — the board and team will find that their service will be simplified within a single, easy-to-use location. And by incorporating training into the board management solution, directors can take charge of their own learning, seeking out development on their own schedules.

Budget constraints. There is never enough money to accomplish everything the organization sets out to do. However, finding a tool that both creates efficiencies and replaces multiple other complicated, time-consuming tools can be a win-win for your organization. And development materials can be reused by multiple generations of board members, leading to new cost efficiencies.

Training requirements. The board may feel that spending precious service time learning a new tool or topic is hard to swallow. For any new tools the board is asked to use, the members should understand the time and effort savings they will experience after investing the time to learn.

Board development and its importance to engagement

Fostering an attitude of constant learning — of which technology is one small part — is a great way to keep board members engaged and open to new ideas. After all, the next great solution can come from anyone at any time.

Everboarding means there is always something new to learn. Board development should extend throughout service, starting with a robust onboarding process and continuing into specialized training about board service as well as nuances of your organization, its mission and related topics. Board members require training around cybersecurity, stewardship, communications and more to be effective and engaged in their roles.

Also,  throughout the process, not only by marking service milestones and wins, but by putting extra effort into helping board members see the results of their workAcknowledging your board members regularly can also keep them enthusiastic about contributing their time and network connections and fundraising for you.

The role of technology in board engagement

As so many organizations have found, technology is an effective tool for engaging with any audience. So when you’re working on developing your board’s engagement, it’s no wonder technology provides the solution. Consider what your board management software can offer the board and beyond:

Facilitating secure communication and information sharing

Board members need to be able to work with each other and with organization staff to provide effective guidance. When communication is fragmented across multiple tools, their messages get muddled. Implementing a single tool for board communication keeps director focus where it belongs with no undue distractions.

Assisting with strategy development

Strategy decisions are among the most important responsibilities boards undertake, and they can take a lot of time. The board management tool simplifies strategy development by enabling workflows, revisions and electronic approvals in the system. And board members can easily click to supporting materials when reviewing possible changes.

Streamlining board operations and saves time

Focusing board work in a single platform simplifies work for both the board and staff. Directors can work from dashboards to find their current asks, search easily for stored documents and complete their service from multiple devices, wherever they are.

Increasing board participation

By making information easy to find, board management software reduces the risk of frustration and encourages directors to take ownership of their own learning and participation.

Supporting every stakeholder

With workflow management, communications and meeting tools and robust document storage and searchability, board software can be used beyond the board: for committees, working groups, quality teams and more, they can all benefit from having a central solution to collaborate and work more effectively together.

Actionable steps

So, where do you go from here? Consider what comes next:

  1. Review your onboarding and ongoing training processes. Where can you build in more engagement throughout the board member lifecycle?
  2. Look at simple ways to start building in engagement activities to your processes. Use your survey tools to ask board members questions before meetings. Check who has RSVP’d and is attending and contributing to keep on top of disengagement and understand where to direct more attention.
  3. Find the right partner. A solution provider with extensive nonprofit experience, like BoardEffect, is ready to join with you to make engagement even easier. Reach out to begin building your adoption strategy.

Technology and board development are two crucial tools to help improve your organization’s performance and meet your mission and goals. Lack of board engagement can really stand in the way of your board and organization reaching its full potential. By considering a board management solution for your organization, you can give the board what it needs to be better engaged and prepared for service.

Diligent understands that volunteer board members are a vital resource for every mission-driven organization, and we have designed BoardEffect to encourage and support their full engagement. Let us know how we can help you and your organization.

Jennifer Rose Hale

Jennifer Rose Hale has over 20 years' experience with digital and employee communications in for- and nonprofit environments. Her writing and client areas of expertise include education, finance, science and technology.

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