The onset of COVID-19 abruptly forced nonprofits to start meeting virtually. For many nonprofit organizations, the transition was anything but smooth. Prior to the emergence of the virus, many nonprofits met virtually only as necessary, if at all. What’s more is that a lot of board members were so accustomed to in-person meetings that they didn’t have a desire to things any differently. Using technology is still very foreign and uncomfortable for a lot of board members, and people in general, and that makes having virtual board meetings extremely challenging.
The virus jolted every type of organization into figuring how to adapt quickly to changing circumstances. It’s a crucial time for nonprofit boards to continue having meetings as they provide vital services to their communities. As COVID-19 began to spread across the world, many nonprofit organizations scrambled to put together the resources to start holding virtual meetings. Large numbers of them weren’t prepared with the right technology and they weren’t yet using board portals.
Virtual board meetings have many advantages and disadvantages. It remains to be seen how nonprofits will view virtual board meetings when they have a choice on how they meet. In the meantime, nonprofit board members get the chance to explore new ways of leading and they can take what they’ve learned into the future.
Virtual Meetings Tracked Slowly Until They Became a Necessity
The first virtual board meeting software came out in the early 1990s but the concept didn’t catch on like wildfire, or anything close to it. It was many years before businesses and other organizations started to realize that virtual meetings had some advantages. Still, organizational leaders largely viewed virtual meetings as sort of the backup plan when key board members can’t be present, the weather is bad, or it’s difficult for the full board to meet for some other reason.
Let’s look at how viewpoints have changed for today and the future. Forbes cites studies that show:
- 33% increase in the number of virtual 1:1 meetings and a 48% increase in the number of virtual group meetings.
- 35% of respondents believe the technology will lead to better video conference options.
- 32% anticipate better video training and development opportunities.
- 61% said 5G will create more opportunities to work remotely with ubiquitous success.
Advantages of Virtual Board Meetings
Virtual meetings are a necessity for now. The current environment offers a front-row seat where nonprofit board members can experience all the advantages that virtual board meetings bring to the table.
Beyond being an efficient tool for board meetings, board members should be looking at the other ways to use virtual board meetings. In spite of the need to quarantine, virtual meetings are a handy platform for training employees and volunteers, holding conferences and virtual events, and presenting workshops.
In the spirit of creativity, nonprofit organizations might even consider holding a virtual meeting to train board members or others on how to run and participate in virtual meetings. The addition of board management software can take your virtual meetings to the next level.
If you’re not yet having your board meetings online, this list of advantages might open your eyes to some new possibilities. Here’s what virtual meeting software and board management software can do for you:
- Record and preserve board meetings and archive them with approved minutes.
- Use multiple communication channels like audio, text, and video.
- Use electronic tools like polls and surveys.
- Keeps the board connected during crises and all year long.
- Prevents disruption of leadership at times nonprofits need it most.
- Saves costs on travel, meeting rooms, printing costs, and time.
- Shortens meeting prep time.
- Allows online file-sharing.
- Makes it possible for more board members to attend.
- Prevents disruption if board members arrive late.
- There is less opportunity for side chatter.
- Can use breakout rooms to meet in small groups, committees, or task forces.
- Potential to use it for training employees, volunteers, or for board member training.
- Prevents having to reschedule board meetings.
- Having meeting options is an incentive for board member candidates to serve.
- They’re a green-friendly option that reduces the carbon footprint.
Disadvantages of Virtual Board Meetings
As with anything, you have to take the good with the bad, and virtual meetings are no different. There are some disadvantages to having virtual board meetings, but it’s fair to consider that there are viable ways to compensate for many of them. It takes having several virtual board meetings in a row to get familiar with the nuances. Most nonprofit boards find that the advantages of virtual board meetings far outweigh the disadvantages. These are the challenges you can expect:
- It’s more difficult to see the other members’ body language because you’re only seeing headshots.
- With multiple windows open, it can be hard to evaluate facial expressions.
- Unstable internet connections can break up audio and video.
- It may pose cybersecurity risks such as hacking.
- Some board members may be unfamiliar with technology.
- Meeting facilitators are used to pointing at a whiteboard.
- There’s a learning curve with online meeting tools.
- May lack funds for hardware and software.
- People use different devices and connectivity and clarity could be on their end.
- Facilitator may need to work harder to engage all members-it can be easy for quiet board members to sit back.
- Household movements and noises can be distracting-kids, pets, traffic, etc.
- Some platforms allow small groups to use online breakout rooms.
A Board Portal: Enhancing Nonprofit Efficiency and Performance
If virtual meetings are better than in-person meetings, even some of the time, you’ll really appreciate the advantages that a board portal gives your board.
With BoardEffect, your board can communicate securely online. Granular permissions and a shared calendar make it possible for committees and workgroups to collaborate on projects and share files. Use the portal to route documents complete with notes and annotations and get e-signatures as needed.
BoardEffect takes the hassle out of creating boardbooks, agendas, and meeting minutes. The robust security measures incorporated into the portal mean that your member and donor information won’t be hacked.
We’re living and working in unprecedented times. While we live in a world of abrupt and drastic change, one thing that hasn’t changed is that the work of nonprofit organizations continues to be vital to our communities.
Innovation rises out of necessity. When things settle down, researchers will likely be interested in understanding how businesses and nonprofits adapted and persevered through this challenging time. Virtual meeting software and board management software play a strong role in organizations in keeping things up and running. To that end, they’ll be prime topics for research.
Until then, it’s important for nonprofits to seek and utilize digital tools that not only help them survive but put them on pace to thrive. At some point, nonprofit boards will have more options on how to hold their meetings. In the interim, virtual meetings and board portals are the staple platforms for your essential work.
Download our Virtual Meeting Toolkit where we frame key insights around navigating remote board meetings successfully. You’ll come away with core best practices to ensure your virtual meetings are effective, engaging, and secure.