Many times, the longer an organization is in action the harder it is to update well-worn processes. For Friendship Force – a global nonprofit organization that has been around for more than 42 years – the sheer work it took to build a cohesive board experience served as the much-needed catalyst for change.
Friendship Force was founded in 1977 by Wayne Smith with the support of sitting president Jimmy Carter as a way to spread peace and understanding throughout the world through education, immersion, and friendship. Pre-internet, Friendship Force provided a way for members to learn about other people outside of their small local bubble. Today, it is still a key global resource dedicated to building bridges across the barriers that separate people, whether geographically, racially, or economically.
As the current president and CEO of Friendship Force, Jeremi Snook clearly understands the legacy and importance an organization serves in today’s global landscape. Today, the organization operates across 63 countries with more than 15,000 members and over 360 clubs. For Jeremi and the organization, it’s become an important fact that the nonprofit board reflects the diversity of the members the team serves. While the Friendship Force board is made up of around 13 individuals at any given time, they are located all across the world – creating a unique challenge when it comes to nonprofit board meetings.
Although the Friendship Force board is spread out across seven countries (with the board chair based in Australia), the group makes a point to meet twice a year in person for three-day marathon board meetings. Additionally, the board has several standing and ad-hoc committees that meet virtually in between all-board meetings on a monthly basis.
For many years, the Friendship Force board was managing all board communication via email. After Jeremi came on board in 2016, he quickly realized the lack of scalability and implemented Google Docs as a short-term solution. Unfortunately, the responsibility fell on Jeremi and his personal assistant to gather and execute these communications, which meant critical content was still getting lost in board member’s inboxes.
Coming from more than 20 years in the nonprofit world, Jeremi had thought he’d seen everything in the industry. But managing a multi-national board via email and Google Docs was more than he could fathom. Just putting together the 100+ page board book took more than a month of full-time effort from Jeremi and his team, and this was a requirement twice a year. After his first board meeting in March 2016, Jeremi started to look for digital solutions to streamline the international board management process.
“It was messy trying to organize information, it was difficult to access this information, and it was difficult to talk to one another with the other technology that was out there. We were looking for something that was simple, easy, and intuitive.” – Jeremi Snook
The Friendship Force board utilized Google Docs for around six months before switching to a different tool built specifically for nonprofit boards. This solution was full of flashy bells and whistles, but it was complicated and difficult for the board (who are from multiple countries and are multi-generational) to understand. Board members were still sending comments and messages via email, negating any successful use on the platform itself. After a year of this, the Friendship Force board went back to email, putting Jeremi on a mad dash to find a cloud-based solution that would work for the team. Finally, Jeremi stumbled on Boardable – a simple, clear tool that everyone could use.
Having worked with the United Way himself for many years, Jeremi was drawn to Boardable which was founded by a former United Way board member. Although key stakeholders (Jeremi’s team in particular) had misgivings at first about implementing yet another digital board management tool, the organization got up and running on Boardable in early 2017. As a cloud-based tool that was as easy to use on the administrative side as it was on the board member side, Boardable was a no-brainer. The Friendship Force team introduced Boardable and have not looked back.
While the transition to Boardable was primarily driven by Jeremi and the Friendship Force administration, the board recognized the need for a new solution and quickly embraced the ease and flexibility of the Boardable tool.
“Our board members would say it’s easy to use. I can tell you that after experimenting with a lot of other options, saying that it’s easy to use is a really big endorsement for the software. It’s also intuitive – when they’re exploring a feature they’ve never used before all of the information is there where it’s supposed to be.” – Jeremi Snook
Additionally, Boardable was uniquely positioned to help Friendship Force successfully navigate the first half of 2020. As an organization that is wholly focused on international travel and relationships, a global standstill of travel and in-person gatherings directly impacted the future of the organization. Around 80% of Friendship Force’s revenue is dependent on people being able to travel internationally, and the COVID-19 crisis left both the organization and the board looking for survival strategies.
Before the novel coronavirus shutdown, the Friendship Force board met twice a year in person with five to seven committee meetings taking place virtually every single month. During and after the shutdown, however, everything changed. The in-person meeting scheduled to take place in Budapest, Hungary in March 2020 was cancelled, replaced by monthly emergency board meetings that take place solely online. Additionally, many committees and subcommittees are meeting on a weekly basis during the current situation to stay on top of immediate needs. The online collaboration resources available through Boardable have been instrumental in moving Friendship Force’s strategy forward during these uncertain times. Even after things open up (hopefully) in the next year or so, Jeremi and the board plan on scaling back to one in-person board meeting a year thanks to the online power of the Boardable solution.
“I’d recommend Boardable because they get it. Honestly, Boardable gets exactly the pain points that executive directors are experiencing with their board, whether it’s governing or helping to manage the boards better. Boardable understands these pain points and they’ve addressed them in their software. They make it really so that there is no comparison. Boardable has been a true game changer for our organization.” – Jeremi Snook
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