How to Elevate Your Board Members with E-Learning

If your organization’s board is failing to advocate on your behalf or struggling to meet expectations, it’s time to intervene. Deciding to get involved is step one—but what is the next step towards actually improving your board?

For one, you can invest in board management software to help your board members make the most of every meeting. This can solve general disorganization issues, such as documents going missing or tasks getting forgotten.

However, in addition to upping your board technology game, we’re pretty big fans of incorporating e-learning courses into your efforts as well. Let’s walk through why you should consider custom-developed e-learning courses to elevate your board’s effectiveness and a few scenarios in which these courses can help.

Why is e-learning a valuable tool for elevating your mission-driven board?

So, your organization’s board members are failing to meet expectations. You need to take action to help them rise to the task… but why should those actions involve e-learning?

After all, you can communicate new expectations to your board and teach them to meet (and exceed) those goals in a variety of ways. For instance, you could work with a consultant that specializes in board activation or even host an engaging leadership retreat in the mountains. A trusted expert and the promise of s’mores? What more could you ask for!

Well, e-learning courses provide a few unique benefits when it comes to training your board members, even if there are fewer s’mores. E-learning courses are:

  1. Scalable. If you see the same challenges continue to arise farther down the road, you can use your already-created e-learning courses to fix the problem. Courses can be repeated over and over with new members, making your training scalable as your board evolves.
  2. Accessible. Nowadays, board members can work with your organization while located across the country, Zoom-ing into regular meetings. With e-learning courses, members can complete the training at their own convenience; any time, any place.
  3. Modifiable. Courses can be updated as your organization’s practices evolve, which can be cost-effective when compared to creating new training courses from scratch every time you need to make a change.

Further, you can work with an e-learning content development company and gain access to course design experts who can help build custom experiences for your team.

Now that we’ve covered e-learning for board training in a general sense, you’re probably wondering what it would look like for your board. Let’s walk through two board challenges that you can overcome with e-learning training courses.

Two Challenges That E-Learning Can Help Overcome

Challenge 1: Board Members Aren’t Communicating Effectively

Imagine this scenario:

It’s your first board meeting to discuss and approve an upcoming campaign—one that’s crucial for boosting your annual fund and raising enough to support your organization through the year. During the meeting, you observe:

  • Members speaking over one another, with little productive conversation.
  • Knowledge silos, where certain members of your team are highly informed while others are missing key details.
  • Members feuding over the best course of action, later ending up not taking any action at all.
  • Organizational staff members that are cut off from your board are unclear about what the board is doing.

To put it simply: your board is struggling to communicate. And a board that fails to communicate is an unproductive board.

Board members need to communicate with one another, within committees, with external forces, and across your organization as a whole. Here are a few tips to create e-learning resources that will help them do so:

  • Empower members to practice communication skills. Use scenarios and simulations in your e-learning courses so members can practice giving responses without any consequences. For example, create an immersive scenario in which characters are talking over one another. How should a board member speak up and ensure their ideas are heard? Give them feedback on their responses.

  • Provide a variety of solutions to overcome communication challenges. Think of it this way: how you communicate with fellow board members to solve a conflict is different from how you communicate with a major gift prospect to overcome a challenge. By addressing a variety of different communication challenges, you can create courses that offer valuable solutions in many situations.

  • Ensure the course is relatable to the communication challenges your board members could face. Let’s say your board rarely gets involved in events but regularly holds one-on-one meetings with major gift prospects. In that case, you should focus your courses on the communication scenarios that are most relevant to your board and avoid ones that have little impact on their day-to-day responsibilities.

Over time, effective communication will lead to more educated, informed, and engaged board members. The key to training members to communicate effectively—especially through e-learning—is creating relatable content that they can use to discover new solutions and put them to practice.

Challenge 2: Board Members Are Lacking Sector-Specific Expertise

Now let’s say your board members, while effective professionals in their personal lives, lack sector-specific awareness. When they’re not wearing their board member hats, they’re local politicians, philanthropists, and generally well-connected individuals. However, they don’t spend day in and day out in the mission-driven world.

A lack of sector-specific knowledge can lead to a few challenges, including:

  • An inability to fundraise or garner support effectively.
  • A lack of awareness about the legal responsibilities of a board member.
  • An inability to assess crises and respond effectively (something that was especially crucial as the COVID-19 pandemic made headlines).

Often, new members will join your board and within months (or weeks), they’ll be making decisions that could have a major impact on the success of your organization. Here are a few tips to create courses that ensure board members have the knowledge to make effective decisions:

  • Use examples to illustrate challenging concepts. Rather than telling a board member about specific policies, show them the policy in action. For example, we were tasked with creating a course on pediatric sedation—clearly a complicated topic. Rather than listing out a variety of processes, we used example scenarios to walk learners through key information and drive home the most important takeaways. You can do the same with sector-specific processes.

  • Consider highlighting specific topics with microcourses. Microlearning courses are hyper-focused on one specific topic and therefore bring that topic to the forefront. Filing a Form 990, meeting with major gift prospects over Zoom, and even organization-specific topics are all great options for a microcourse. Through these courses, your board members can quickly get up to speed on a specific topic before making an organization-changing decision about it.

Here’s the thing: your board’s decisions can make or break your organization’s efforts. They’re the public face of your organization, they approve any major funding, and they oversee the legal procedures surrounding your tax-exempt status. Suffice to say, they need to understand organizational operations. These tips will result in courses that are educational on the ins and outs of the sector without being overwhelming.

If your mission-driven board isn’t meeting expectations, it’s up to you to reestablish expectations, conduct training, and elevate your board to success.

E-learning is a powerful tool because it’s scalable, accessible, and modifiable over time. We’ve walked through just two scenarios that you can use e-learning to elevate your board, but you can also work with an e-learning consultant to find the right solution to overcome other board challenges your organization might face.

Amy Morissey is an expert on e-learning for board members. Author: Amy Morrisey

Amy Morrisey is the President of Artisan E-Learning and serves as Sales & Marketing Manager. Amy started with Artisan as a contract writer/instructional designer. She was our Production Manager for four years and helped the team to double its capacity. As President, she stays focused on maintaining the high standards our clients have grown to expect. She believes that staying close to our clients, our people, and our work is a smart way to do that. One of her favorite things to do in the e-learning world is jump in with a client to write a storyboard that is creative and application-based. Before working with Artisan, Amy spent 17 years in corporate training and development predominantly teaching leadership development and coaching teams and executives. She currently serves on the board of ATD Detroit.

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