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Indiana Society of Association Executives Case Study
Year-round Board Engagement on 3 Meetings Per Year

Like many nonprofits, the Indiana Society of Association Executives (ISAE) has big aspirations. In this case, “big” means “statewide” as ISAE organizes luncheons, conventions, an annual awards ceremony and more for its nonprofit members throughout Indiana. The society’s mission is “to support and strengthen the success of association professionals and the associations they serve.”

Also like many nonprofits, the Indiana Society of Association Executives realizes its vision with a lean staff, starting with its board. “We were at 17 [members], now we’re at 11 by design,” Executive Director Mark McSweeney says. “It’s a relatively small board, which we like.”

The challenges of Indiana Society of Association Executives’ lean board

Even with its intentional design, ISAE’s small board presents challenges, particularly from representing and serving a member base distributed across the state. Geography means the board meets only three times per year. That makes communication paramount so ISAE, its board, and eight committees don’t lose momentum between meetings.

Indiana Society of Association Executives Star Awards

Executive Director Mark McSweeney stands with several of ISAE’s Executive of the Year honorees. (Photo courtesy of Indiana Society of Association Executives.)

That reality brought several problems to the fore for McSweeney and the Indiana Society of Association Executives.

Business software can’t solve nonprofit problems

ISAE found itself in a position that many nonprofits do. It turned to existing business software to tackle its issues, including managing and engaging its board and committees.

“Several of us have used different types of communication and project management platforms, like Basecamp,” McSweeney says. “The challenge has alway been that the platforms out there, while good, are originally designed for something else, like accounting.”

It’s understandable why nonprofits do this. Off-label software use might not be ideal, but it’s cheap, and that matters to organizations on tight budgets. Inevitably, though, two problems arise:

  • Business software costs nonprofits time. “They end up being something a lot bigger or more robust than may of us need for pure board and committee management,” McSweeney says.
  • Business software makes boards inefficient. “It’s not good for board members,” McSweeney says. “It becomes cumbersome because they use it infrequently.”

No central hub = Inconsistent board engagement

ISAE searched for solutions by exploring two workarounds, but this approach brought problems of its own.

“We had had two platforms available as information portals. One was a board-restricted area on our website,” McSweeney says. This helped with document management, giving ISAE a place to store files such as financial statements and meeting minutes.

Cornhole tournament hosted by Indiana Society of Association Executives

ISAE organizes formal and informal events all over the state for its members, from an annual awards show to networking events. (Photo courtesy of Indiana Society of Association Executives.)

As for task management, ISAE considered Asana. Several board members had experience with the software platform, which helps teams work together.

The shortcomings of workarounds

ISAE’s makeshift web portal soon showed its flaws. “There was no way for us to push information out from there,” McSweeney says. Without that, nothing could effectively drive board members to the portal. “It required them to remember to go to our website and log in.” That’s not a habit board members are likely to form with only three meetings per year.

As for Asana, ISAE tested it on some committees, which included some board members. Ultimately, it created too much of a barrier to engagement. “A couple board members jumped in, but most weren’t used to it, and we experienced similar issues as the website,” McSweeney says.

RELATED: Project Purse Success Story – Millennial Nonprofit Leader

How Boardable made life better for Indiana Society of Association Executives

Puts board and organization on a level playing field

McSweeney and ISAE found that using business software to manage its board had an alienating effect. Board members already familiar with Asana felt comfortable, but those who weren’t felt unconfident and disempowered.

Boardable solved that by putting board members on a single platform. Moreover, its what-you-see-is-what-you-get design quickly helped everyone learn and use its tools.

“I’ve been pleasantly surprised. You never know how a volunteer will react [to something new] until they have it in their hands,” McSweeney says. “It’s clean and straightforward, very easy to use.

Meets board members where they are

For as much buzz as the word “disrupt” generates in the tech and business worlds, disruption is often the opposite of what should happen in terms of user experience. Indeed, the best software platforms meet users where they are, then guide them into deeper productivity.

“You can scale [Boardable] to almost any level you need.”

“The more that you can serve by simply doing what you already do on a regular basis, the more likelihood for success,” McSweeney says. “Boardable does that because it pushes everything out to [board members] now, even our monthly financials.”

That’s a huge benefit to ISAE. Even though it meets only three times per year, the board still has plenty of matters to attend to between those meetings, and McSweeney’s ability to push notifications out from Boardable keeps everyone on task.

Everyone works faster

Another boon that’s come to ISAE from bringing its board to a central platform? It respects everyone’s time. Board members stay on top of the most pressing things, rather than lose steam by wrapping their heads around everything at once.

“I can push communications out so they can react right away,” McSweeney says. “They don’t have to remember a whole lot. It takes them to the document, meeting, or whatever they need right away.”

Standing ovation at Indiana Society of Association Executive event

ISAE’s board and committee members are spread throughout the state, so close, consistent communication is critical to its success. (Photo courtesy of Indiana Society of Association Executives.)

And when board members log into Boardable on their own, they rarely need help. “It’s worked well for our board members to get in and out and get what they need. Very fast for them for time management,” McSweeney says.

“And for future reference, it’s all there,” he says, referring to resources such as attachments, minutes, and discussions.

Ready to scale

McSweeney took a strategic approach to rolling out Boardable with ISAE. “We started introducing it solely to our board in 2017, with the anticipation in 2018 of expanding it to our committees,” he says.

By doing that, McSweeney was able to see how Boardable could scale, starting with the board and then gradually integrating its eight committees.

“Heading into 2018, we started getting all our committee chairs onto Boardable, and now we’re getting our committee members onto it,” he says. “Some committee chairs have already started posting their board reports on Boardable. That’s working very well.”

All told, McSweeney sees ISAE quadrupling its users on Boardable, expanding from 11 to about 50 people once all committee members join.

“You can scale it to almost any level you need,” he says.


RELATED: United Way of Central Indiana Success Story

Interested in how to make your nonprofit board of directors more productive through the effective use of technology? Boardable is a board-management software platform that centralizes all communication between you and your board. Find the best meeting times, securely store all of your documents, archive discussion threads, and more—all in one place. Click below to start your free trial of Boardable.

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