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CASE STUDY: The FarmHouse Foundation

The FarmHouse Foundation is a 501(c)3 public educational foundation, organized in 1965 as a Trust to foster scholarship, character, leadership, and cultural development among the undergraduate members of FarmHouse Fraternity, Inc. FarmHouse Fraternity is a men’s social fraternity, founded as an agriculture fraternity by seven men at the University of Missouri in 1905, that seeks to build men intellectually, spiritually, socially, morally and physically. FarmHouse is located on 38 university campuses throughout the United States and Canada, with over 1,750 undergraduates and 30,000 living alumni.

As the educational foundation of a smaller, niche social men’s fraternity, the FarmHouse Foundation provides sustainable funding for FarmHouse Fraternity undergraduate members to excel through values-based leadership training, continue their college education through academic scholarships, have safe, affordable, up-to-date living/learning environments, discover the world with study abroad opportunities, prepare for life after college, and become leaders in their community, our society, and the world.

A Trailblazing Leader

Allison Rickels, CFRE, joined the FarmHouse Foundation staff in July 2001 as its second full-time staff member, working in a multitude of areas across fundraising, board relations, event planning, financial management and stewardship. Allison was hired as Foundation’s Executive Director and CEO in 2007, and is the first and only woman to lead a men’s fraternal foundation. Now for 13 years, Allison has led the fundraising, administration and operations of the Foundation. During this time, Allison has worked closely with dozens of Board of Trustees and has seen her fair share of change.

FarmHouse CEO Allison Rickels and Michael Brown

FarmHouse Foundation CEO Allison Rickels and FarmHouse Fraternity undergraduate Michael Brown break ground on a new facility.

 

Today, the award-winning Foundation has over $21 million in assets. They raise between $2.5 and $4 million from about 2,300 donors annually, and grant approximately $3.5 million to the Fraternity, chapters and individual members.

Currently, the FarmHouse Foundation has 13 FarmHouse alumni as members of the Board of Trustees. While there can be anywhere from 7 to 19 Trustees on the Board at one time, Allison prefers between 12 and 15 Trustees, since this size of a Board makes it easier to get things done, have productive conversations and make thoughtful decisions. The Board typically meets in-person two or three times a year and virtually twice a year, although their 2020 board meetings have been conducted virtually due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The Problem

For many years, Allison and her staff created hard-copy, printed versions of their board book for every single meeting. In advance of board meetings, Allison would email board members critical documents (sometimes consisting of 20+ attachments) they would need to read before board meetings. Instead of knowing for sure Trustees had opened and read each one of these documents, all Allison could do was hope that this information was read before the meeting.

One of the main values of FarmHouse is transparency. For the Fraternity, they have open Ritual and initiation ceremonies. This transparency is also a key value in the way the Foundation is managed. After realizing that simply emailing documents to board members was cumbersome on all sides, Allison set up a password-protected page on the Foundation’s website to house all of these documents for board members, breaking up the content based on agenda items.

Auburn University FarmHouse Fraternity chapter.

Executive Officers of the Auburn FarmHouse Chapter.

 

While this system provided more visibility into what specific documents were required reading, it was still difficult to set up. Allison had to email all of the documents to their web administrator who would build the page. Then there was the issue of making sure board members remembered the password and ensuring these materials were uploaded to the website in a timely manner for the Trustees to review before their meetings.

Allison and the Board of Trustees realized they needed a modern board management solution that could bring this small but mighty organization into the digital age.

Introducing Boardable

FarmHouse Fraternity and the FarmHouse Foundation are actively involved in the interfraternal community, including the North American Fraternity Conference (NIC) and the Foundation for Fraternal Excellence. The Foundation for Fraternal Excellence (FFE), in collaboration with its Alliance Partners, serves a membership of more than 70 fraternal foundations, including professionals and volunteers. FFE exists to support organizations and individuals invested in developing the next generation of fraternity and sorority leaders.

At FFE’s Seminar, annual meeting, in August 2019, Boardable became an Alliance Partner and introduced its platform to FFE members, like the FarmHouse Foundation. At the time, Allison was President of FFE and its Board of Directors had the opportunity to use the Boardable platform for a pilot partnership as a new Alliance Partner.

After being thoroughly impressed with the easy to use interface, the low cost, and the quick onboarding process, Allison introduced the platform to the Foundation’s Board Chairman who gave the green light to move forward. The FarmHouse Foundation officially rolled out the Boardable platform in October 2019 and has seen measurable, positive results in the first year using the platform, especially as they were required to move to virtual board meetings 

Results

Right out of the gate, Boardable was a hit with Trustees due to the easy setup and onboarding process.

As one Trustee said,

Boardable offers a ‘one-stop shop’ for all of the information we need as Trustees and helps make us more effective in our fiduciary roles for the Foundation. In addition, it is very user friendly, even for those who are not technologically adept.”

FarmHouse Foundation had results from using Boardable like easier agenda building and better virtual board meetings.

In addition to making it operationally easier for Trustees, other results the FarmHouse Foundation team has seen include:

  • Time savings: Not having to build, print, and ship physical board books has resulted in huge time and cost savings for Allison and her team.
  • Streamlined agenda building: Instead of spending time sending emails and attachments, Allison and the Chairman can easily build and share an Agenda with documents appended to specific agenda items. This keeps everyone organized and informed.
  • Accountability: Administrators, like Allison, can see when board members log into the platform and keep track of who has read which content for increased transparency and accountability.
  • Real-time edits and updates: As things change or need to be added to an agenda, Allison can easily make edits and share these changes with Trustees. She also send them an email in the platform to remind them of new documents or information related to the board meeting.
  • On-the-go access: The mobile app has been a huge benefit for the Board and Allison in unexpected ways. In a recent meeting with a financial planner about an estate gift, Allison was quickly able to access the Foundation’s Trust Agreement and Bylaws on the app and seamlessly share these documents with the financial planner without any wasted time.
  • Virtual meetings: As the Board has moved to virtual board meetings, Boardable is key in keeping people connected. Trying to squeeze eight hours of board meeting content into a two-hour virtual meeting can be tricky, but Boardable helps keeps the meeting on track. The technology makes it easy to share screens, walk through specific content, and virtually make changes.

FarmHouse Fraternity members

New undergraduate leaders of FarmHouse Fraternity participate in To Be & Become: Emerging Talent Retreat.

 

The Foundation has also expanded on Boardable technology by finding new and creative ways to use some of the available functionality. Allison, her staff, and their Governance Committee are in the process of migrating their nearly 600-page Board Governance Manual to Boardable. Currently, this massive document is stored in DropBox and on their internal network, but the team is leveraging the Boardable interface to create the Manual as an agenda with documents appended to each topic to make it easily accessible for Trustees. Now, board members can easily find the topic they need by searching through the Agenda.

As Allison says,

I think Boardable is definitely worth the cost. It’s extremely valuable and there are new tools and updates being released all the time. It is a great resource for managing our board meetings and being effective, supportive, and interactive for our Trustees. I never want to waste our board members time and Boardable helps us deliver an outstanding and engaging board experience.

This sentiment is echoed by the FarmHouse Foundation Trustees themselves. As one board member said,

I don’t often offer endorsements, but this one is easy for me. I recall our board discussion about the potential of using Boardable. I had some concerns about how it would be adopted. That concern was short-lived. Boardable made everything easier, putting all the info a board member needs in one place and readily accessible. The team saw the benefits and readily embraced it.


Want to experience the time-saving benefits of using a central board portal, just like FarmHouse Foundation? Give Boardable a try for free, no credit card needed or commitment. Just try it with your team and see if it’s a good fit!

Free trial of Boardable, no credit card or commitment

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