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How to manage a nonprofit volunteer board

Guest blog by Jeb Banner of Boardable

At POINT, we’re huge advocates for tools that help manage your nonprofit’s people power. With POINT you manage your volunteer force, but don’t forget about your nonprofit board. Since we get questions about board management, we wanted to give you some tips from our friends at Boardable.

Via Christina on Unsplash


COVID has forced organizations to rethink how to keep your volunteers and board engaged. We think one of the best ways to keep your nonprofit on mission is to leverage and communicate with your board. Enter board software. 

Today’s board software empowers modern board leaders to optimize their team’s efforts, do more good in their roles, and maximize every moment in the boardroom. After all, your board members volunteer their time and skills to help put your organization on the right path. You should make sure their contributions are put to good use.

Tech can be a wonderful thing, but first, you have to solidify a plan for leveraging your software so that you can make the most of your organization’s investment and your board members’ time. With the right board software and a great plan for using it, you can empower your board to:

  • Make meeting prep a breeze for board members
  • Conduct super efficient hybrid meetings
  • Centralize documentation
  • Maximize engagement

As someone who works closely with the board, you see how motivated your board members are to help your organization. Just imagine how the right technology and strategies will help them boost efficiency and bring their ideas to life!

Make board meeting prep a breeze for board members

It doesn’t matter what organization you work for — we’ve all attended an inefficient meeting at some point. All but one person shows up to a meeting prepared. Then, everyone has to sit there while that person is caught up and the presenter drones through a document that everyone should have already read. That’s probably the easiest way to drain everyone’s energy. Not to mention it takes away from the time that should be spent collaborating. 

Long gone are the days of poor meeting prep thanks to technology!

Cloud-based document creation tools can make meeting preparation a breeze. Create an agenda filled with an outline of everything you plan to cover. Boardable’s agenda playbook suggests that you should include details like:

  • The goal of each item. Do you want the board to arrive at a decision, provide input, or simply be informed about the topic at hand? Board members should always know what they’re trying to accomplish, so they can come prepared with insights or questions if need be.
  • Documents that should be reviewed for each item. Remember, sitting around while people review something during a meeting can be a real bore! Instead, attach documents to your agenda and let everyone know they should take a look before the meeting.
  • How long should be spent on each item. Time limits can be incredibly helpful for keeping the conversation moving. Board members will know how much time they’ll have and can determine whether they’ll have time to squeeze in their comments or questions.

What makes this even easier is when you have a dedicated agenda builder that offers all these tools for you. Whenever your agenda is finalized, share it with board members. If you can assign tasks to remind people to review the agenda, do that too! Everyone needs a helpful reminder every once in a while, and automating that process will go a long way in making sure people actually do what they need to.

Via Chris Montgomery on Unsplash

Conduct super efficient hybrid meetings

You value the time your board members spend serving your organization. Naturally, you wouldn’t want them to feel uncomfortable contributing. When the pandemic first hit in early 2020, there was an incredible shift to virtual meetings across organizations of all shapes and sizes. It helped ease ongoing health concerns so your board members could continue doing their vital work. Now, a lot of organizations (maybe yours included) are starting to shift back to in-person meetings.

As a board leader myself, I fully understand the need for in-person interactions. Almost two years of limited face-to-face interactions can certainly take a toll on your mental health. I’ve missed the genuine human connection that comes with conversing face-to-face, and I’m sure many of your board members have, too! However, an awful lot of people are still uncomfortable being around others — even with masks and social distancing. That’s why you should consider hybrid meetings!

While they take some forethought, hybrid board meetings can be incredibly beneficial. Beyond easing health concerns, they empower your board to break down geographic barriers, making board service much more accessible.

How can you make sure the physical and virtual boardrooms stay in sync, though? Re:Charity explains that your board software can be incredibly helpful for hosting virtual meetings and keeping everyone connected. Here are some suggestions:

  • Make sure you have the right virtual meeting tools. Virtual and hybrid meetings both depend heavily on the technology you use, so make sure your board is equipped with the right software. First and foremost, this means having video conferencing tools. Another helpful tool your team may need is a polling feature to help create polls and track everyone’s votes.
  • Have an in-person attendee monitor the digital boardroom. Have someone be the eyes and ears for your digital attendees. They should speak up when someone digitally raises their hand and make sure in-person attendees are paying attention to what remote guests are saying. Plus, they can quickly resolve any audio or video issues.
  • Replicate what’s happening in the physical boardroom. You never want someone who’s volunteering their time and talents to feel forgotten. Meetings should be consistent for all your attendees. For instance, if you have a document pulled up on the monitor in-person, do the same for your digital attendees by screensharing the document.
  • Have in-person presenters join digitally. They should even look at their laptops when speaking, too. This is a fantastic way to bridge the gap between all attendees. Otherwise, remote board members might struggle to hear what they’re saying if the laptop isn’t near the speaker.

Technology can make it easy to meet, even when your board members can’t physically come together. Have a plan ready to go for keeping everyone on the same page and actively contributing in meetings. Regardless of if they want to join in-person or remotely, they’ll appreciate the option and recognize that your organization is working hard to make their experience positive.

Centralize documentation

Your board members handle a lot of documents…and I mean a lot! You can’t expect them to keep up with stacks of paper. What happens if they need to reference something and can’t find it? Or what if they’re out and about and not able to make it home to access what they need?

Cloud-based storage systems can be extremely useful here. They allow your board to centralize documents, whether they need to take a look at the organization’s annual budget, propose amendments to your bylaws, or even sign something important. Not to mention, this is great for any organization that wants to reduce its carbon footprint. Going digital eliminates the waste of physical documentation.

Bear in mind that creating Word documents and sharing them as email attachments is not the optimal choice for this type of work. They really limit your board’s ability to collaborate. Use a file-sharing service that allows them to make comments and see each other’s suggestions in real-time. Otherwise, you might have a less-than-ideal situation like this:

  1. The secretary emails a rough draft of a new conflict of interest policy that new board members are expected to sign.
  2. One board member, Jonah, sends a new copy of the document back with his suggestions to use clearer wording.
  3. Another board member, Alexandria, sends another new copy of the document to the secretary with her edits.
  4. The process repeats for any board member who wants to chime in.
  5. Before you know it, you have multiple versions of the same document floating around. Even worse, there are conflicting comments. The secretary has to go through each document and consolidate it into a single version, likely reaching back out to resolve the suggestions that conflict with one another.

Creating new policies typically requires extensive edits since everyone should contribute. With collaborative documentation software, everyone’s comments are posted online in real-time. Plus, they’re time stamped, so everyone can see who commented what and when. People can note if they agree with someone’s feedback or disagree and have an alternate suggestion. No need to send out a new document every time someone makes a revision.

Via Louise Viallesoubranne on Unsplash

Maximize engagement

Here’s a lesser-known trick that you might find useful! Your board software can actually let you know how engaged your board members are. Well, it gives you the data you need, and you just need to know what to look for, rather! After all, you want the people who are volunteering their time and skills to be fully engaged in the cause.

Have the chair or administrator take a look at individuals’ engagement data. Or, they might take a more holistic look at specific committees or the entire board. Then, use information like the following as an indication of their engagement:

  • Meeting attendance. One of the basic signs of engagement is whether or not they’re actually showing up to meetings. If attendance has dropped, are you making meetings as accessible as possible? Are there too many side conversations that veer people off track and drag meetings out? What can you do to make the most of your board members’ time?
  • Task completion. Are board members completing the work they’re assigned? Analyze the number of tasks that have been assigned during a given time vs. how many actually got done. Low completion rates may be an indication that the individual or group isn’t fully engaged in their assigned work. It could also be a sign that you’re assigning too many tasks, which can inhibit board members’ ability to focus on the most important tasks.
  • Board giving metrics. While not necessarily required, donations from board members can indicate whether they feel fully engaged in their work. It can be helpful to track which board members are donating and how much. Just be aware that not everyone will be able to give, or if they can, they might not be able to give large amounts. Instead, you might look at a different form of giving, such as how much additional free time they’re volunteering outside of board service.

If some of the numbers your board leadership sees aren’t up to par, find a way to address it. The easiest way is just to ask! Send out a survey where you focus on the different changes in engagement that you see, whether positive or negative. This can provide valuable insights to consider alongside what you’re seeing in the data.


Final Thoughts

The right technology can work wonders for your board. You just have to be smart about how you use it. Even with COVID still causing challenges, your volunteers are ready to work. Whether you need to enhance your meetings or assess your volunteer board members’ engagement, there are tools to help you.

If you need more ideas to improve the board experience with technology, just ask your board members what they might find useful, whether that’s a new tool or some innovative way to use the technology you already have. Don’t be shy on pitching new technologies to your board with live demos. Tech is here to make your job (and their participation) easier so you can focus more on your mission and less on getting your board members up to speed.   

Jeb is the founder and CEO of Boardable, a board management software provider for mission-driven boards. He is also the founder of two nonprofits, The Speak Easy and Musical Family Tree, as well as a board member of United Way of Central Indiana and ProAct. Jeb is based in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Photo Stephanie Page
Stephanie Page
Head of Outreach

No guilt trips, no sad stories. Just a chance to do something good.