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Virtual Board Meetings: A Nonprofit’s Guide to Success

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Board members often donate their energy and take time out of their busy schedules to further your cause. Naturally, you’ll need to accommodate their work and personal schedules at times, and an increasingly popular way to do that is through virtual board meetings. Overall, the option to go remote for any type of organization can help to optimize the experience for everyone involved.

While going digital is oftentimes a choice, many nonprofit boards don’t have the option about whether or not to host virtual board meetings right now. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced most nonprofits to shift operations online, including crucial board interactions, and the only way to truly combat the challenges is by taking a targeted approach and meeting remotely.

Before diving headfirst into the benefits and best practices for effective virtual board meetings, let’s look at a basic overview of what they are.

What is a Virtual Board Meeting?

Virtual board meetings allow members to attend a meeting from wherever they choose instead of reviewing written notes after the fact. Remote attendees must use a computer or other device with an internet connection to join, so they can listen to presentations and add their own insightful ideas to the conversation.

There are two primary options for hosting a virtual board meeting. On one hand, a virtual meeting can occur when most members are physically present, but one or more members must attend with technology (e.g. by phone or video conferencing tools). On the other hand, some virtual board meetings require all members to attend remotely. Either way, the ability to go remote represents a wealth of opportunities for nonprofits.

Now that you have a basic understanding of virtual board meetings, you have a strong foundation upon which to build so that you can effectively expand your knowledge. Let’s look at what we’ll be covering to maximize your understanding:

Feel free to use the links above to jump to the section most pertinent to your interests. Otherwise, let’s start from the top with the key benefits of hosting virtual board meetings.

Nonprofits experience several benefits from hosting virtual board meetings.

The Benefits of Virtual Board Meetings

Your board may choose to hold a virtual board meeting for a wide variety of reasons, whether it’s due to expenses, time constraints, or health concerns related to the pandemic. Let’s dive a little deeper into the range of benefits your board may experience when testing out remote board meetings.

Here are a handful of benefits of hosting virtual board meetings.

Increased Attendance

If you’re struggling to meet quorum, virtual meetings might just be your catchall solution! Going remote boosts accessibility and ensures everyone can make it to the meeting. At the very least, having the option increases the likelihood of participation. Plus, you’ll eliminate travel expenses, making attendees much more willing to attend.

Remember, your board members lead busy professional and personal lives. Board members with divergent work schedules will value the convenience of online collaboration. When you value their time and allow them to attend remotely, they’ll likely take notice and appreciate your efforts.

In short, expecting your board to make the commute to your office can limit your potential participant pool. Virtual board meetings expand it.

Greater Board Member Diversity

Remote board meetings open the door to a more diverse nonprofit board. For one, they can keep your board socially and geographically diverse.

With the capacity for people from other parts of the country (or even the world) to attend, your board experience enhanced diversity. New perspectives will provide powerful insights, which can ultimately help you think outside of the box and make more sound decisions.

Not only can you expand to those who are physically distant, but with audio and video capabilities, attendees can use multiple senses to participate in the virtual board meeting. This allows for board members with all types of accessibility needs to join in.

    Enhanced Nonprofit Governance

    For the organizer of a virtual board meeting, keeping the conversation focused and productive supports strong, capable governance. With health and safety becoming more of a key issue each day, organizations are relying more on digital meetings (particularly video conferences) to make time-sensitive decisions and communicate during uncertain times. Meeting organizers and other nonprofit leadership will largely benefit from:

    • The ongoing availability of a secure online environment to keep in touch without having to coordinate in-person meetings.

    • Available tech support for recording and sharing discussions and data.

    Today’s virtual board meeting software landscape offers an abundance of tools organizations can use to their advantage, including chat fields, chat search options, and the means to communicate and record decisions over a range of devices. With the right tools, the construction of sharable, group-created minutes is also possible. Overall, technology can eliminate errors and enhance governance.

    Nonprofits also face several challenges with remote board meetings.

    The Challenges of Remote Board Meetings

    As with any technology-based solutions, there are a few setbacks to going remote. Going into the virtual board meeting world, it’s important to be familiar with these challenges so you can be one step ahead. Let’s take a deep dive into a few key obstacles.

    Some of the challenges of virtual board meetings include security issues, reduced engagement, and technological reliance.

    Information Security Issues

    When hosting a private virtual board meeting, the use of technology naturally poses a risk to proprietary and confidential information. Because of this, you’ll want to ensure your organization’s security protocols are current.

    From here, be sure your virtual board meeting platform is fully secure so any transmitted information is likely to stay protected.

    Reduced Engagement

    Some of the nuances of interaction could be lost during remote board meetings due to the lack of face-to-face interaction. A virtual board meeting that includes members who passively listen won’t help you accomplish your goals. To be effective, board members need to participate wholeheartedly and share their insights with the group. Additionally, when only a handful of attendees are remote, those who phone into meetings usually only listen and vote on motions, which can lead to feelings of exclusion.

    The short and simple solution is to incorporate video and encourage participation. This will serve as a reminder to in-person attendees that remote participants are still part of the conversation and will add that much-needed face-to-face element. Most likely, remote attendees will adapt quickly to the format.

    We’ll explore some additional steps to take to combat disengagement below.

    Technological Reliance

    With virtual board meetings, organizers have to be extra aware of the specific technological requirements, both for their leadership and for their board members.

    Your team will need to invest in comprehensive tools that centralize communication. This will serve as a solid foundation. Further, it’s important to be mindful that all members may not have adequate technical proficiency, so be sure to provide easy-to-navigate tech solutions. Consider providing attendees with sufficient instructions for joining and participating in relevant polls and discussions as they arise. Otherwise, you’ll risk wasting everyone’s time as you address technology-related issues during the virtual board meeting itself.

    Streamline Virtual Meetings with a Single Solution

    Check out this short video on a feature that can make video meetings much simpler and more streamlined. 

    As with any technological tool, it’s a good idea to have someone on your team test it out first. Some boards choose to designate an audio-visual point person in the meeting to help others troubleshoot any hiccups.

    Here are a few best practices to keep in mind when hosting remote board meetings.

    How to Run an Effective Virtual Board Meeting

    Since virtual board meetings vastly differ from their in-person counterparts, there are several specific details you’ll need to adjust to maximize engagement and productivity. Let’s explore some actionable steps every executive director or board chair can use to effectively manage remote meetings.

    Ask Whether Your Organization Allows Virtual Meetings.

    First and foremost, you’ll want to be sure that you can legally conduct virtual board meetings. Some boards specifically don’t allow these meetings in their bylaws, and sometimes state law prohibits them entirely. You’ll need to check these two separate sets of regulations before spending the time to set up a virtual board meeting:

    1. Your own bylaws and governance. Review the terms of your board governance. If your governance specifically allows for virtual or remote board meetings, you can move forward. If it does not specifically mention virtual board meetings, you’ll want to first speak with your board chair and legal counsel to understand any ambiguous rules.
    2. The laws of your state and location. There may be specific state or city rules regarding virtual participation in nonprofit meetings. Before hosting your own, review any legal ramifications regarding digital gatherings. It’s important to note that most states do allow virtual board meetings for nonprofits, but checking local regulations will give you peace of mind.

    Set an Appropriate Meeting Time.

    One major factor in effective virtual board meetings is selecting an appropriate meeting time.

    As with any effective meeting, selecting the right time is crucial, especially if attendees are located in multiple time zones. Make sure that the meeting time you choose is respectful of everyone’s lunch hours and break times. While it might not be possible to accommodate everyone’s schedules, do your best to make your remote board meeting easily accessible to as many people as possible. If there is a strong divide, you may determine that setting two separate meeting times is the most appropriate solution.

    If you’re having a difficult time coordinating everyone’s schedules by hand, employ the help of a digital scheduling tool to streamline the decision-making process.

    Develop a Clear Agenda.

    A strong agenda is the foundation of any effective remote board meeting.

    It’s always important to make sure that every attendee can easily track topics and discussions, but with remote attendees, this is even more critical! To keep your meeting focused and on track at all times, create a clear, dynamic agenda that’s accessible on any device with an intuitive mobile interface or a dedicated app. Here are some actionable suggestions for developing strong agendas that will fully engage participants:

    • Involve participants in the creation of the agenda. This way, you can be sure all relevant topics are covered. Plus, this is a fantastic way to boost board member engagement from the get-go as they feel as if their opinions are being heard.

    • Keep your remote board meeting focused and on schedule. Like an in-person meeting, any virtual meeting should follow a set schedule as closely as possible. Be sure to start and end on time, and adhere to each item’s allotted time restrictions.

    • Distribute copies of the agenda and relevant documents a week in advance. This allows board members to come prepared to your virtual board meetings. When everyone isn’t in the same room, it’s extra important that all attendees are looking at the same materials. Following along can substantially boost attentiveness and productivity.

    Sometimes, remote meetings feel less formal. By developing and sticking to a strong agenda, you’ll establish an expectation of professionalism and seriousness. Learn more about creating your own dynamic virtual board meeting agendas with our complete guide!

    Use Video Conferencing Tools.

    Video conferencing adds that all-important face-to-face aspect that virtual board meetings need.

    It is possible to host a virtual board meeting without using video. However, your meetings will be much more successful and interactive with video conferencing tools.

    For one, all participants will be able to see one another and make stronger connections. Adding video also ensures that participants don’t overlook important nonverbal cues. Specifically, watch for body language that indicates disagreement, boredom, impatience, or enthusiasm (all of which are challenging to detect with just a phone call). In addition to live meetings, consider live streaming nonprofit events to help board members feel connected to their work.

    As you get started with video conferencing tools, share these best practices with attendees:

    • Test your Wi-Fi connection as well as video and audio equipment prior to joining the call.

    • Mute your microphone when you’re not speaking.

    • Raise your hand or submit a chat to indicate that you have input or a question.

    • Be camera-ready with proper attire.

    • Close any unnecessary tabs to eliminate external distractions.

    When you have a completely remote board meeting, good etiquette is more important than ever. By laying down the groundwork upfront, everyone will be more mindful as you continue hosting virtual board meetings.

    Set a Minimum Requirement for In-Person Attendance.

    To make up for any missing elements in virtual board meetings, be sure to set a minimum attendance requirement for in-person meetings.

    Some organizations that allow call-ins report that in-person attendance drops. This can directly impact the dynamic of the group if people get into the routine of phoning in. To avoid this, you should set a minimum requirement for in-person attendance. Have a frank discussion with your board that makes it clear that this is not an alternative to being present at meetings on a regular basis. While in-person attendance simply isn’t feasible right now, consider setting this as the standard once social distancing guidelines dissipate.

    Regardless of your remote board meeting policies, try to have a physical meeting on a regular basis. Even if it is just a yearly board retreat, rapport and engagement will be better with an occasional face-to-face meeting. In between live meetings, help everyone stay connected with photos, mission moments, discussions, and other communications. There’s no reason why a remote board can’t be a tight-knit board! It just takes some planning and intentionality.

    Encourage Interaction.

    Be sure to promote a spirit of collaboration during your virtual board meetings.

    When running a virtual board meeting, one of the primary challenges involves keeping everyone engaged in the meeting. So that you can effectively keep everyone involved, try out some of these tactics:

    • Make sure EVERYONE speaks at the beginning of the meeting. This establishes a culture of collaboration from the very start. Plus, it serves as a great reminder for who all is present.

    • Encourage meeting participants to make comments and ask questions throughout the meeting. Asking meeting participants to wait until the end of the virtual board meeting may cause them to forget, even if their comments could have sparked a collaborative discussion. Additionally, if you’ve had a particularly long meeting, they’ll likely hold their questions and comments in an effort to end the meeting.

    • Periodically check in with remote attendees. It can be difficult to interject and hop into a discussion from a remote location. You might consider pausing after each main meeting topic and asking everyone to offer their thoughts.

    • Don’t allow the discussion to lag or stall. Combat this by assigning times to each agenda item. Additionally, consider using more slides than you normally would for an in-person meeting to speed up the pace.

    Remember, your remote attendees are on your nonprofit’s board because you value their insights. Remote members will be much more likely to stay engaged and involved if you make a proactive effort to include them. If they’re left to be passive observers, they’ll likely tune out altogether.

    Ask for Feedback.

    Feedback will ensure you host the best possible remote board meetings.

    Once your remote board meeting has ended, give all participants an opportunity to provide feedback. Whether it’s for serious decision-making or for something more lighthearted like a t-shirt design for an upcoming virtual event, this is a major opportunity to enhance the board member experience. Overall, polling offers as much potential to connect personally as it does to make important decisions.

    If possible, allow participants to provide this feedback anonymously so that they feel free to speak openly and honestly. Read all suggestions provided and consider them as you continue to schedule and plan virtual board meetings. By implementing the suggestions you receive, you’ll convey that you value members’ input, which can help to establish a positive and lasting relationship.

    Virtual board meeting software will streamline the planning process and improve your meetings altogether.

    How Virtual Board Meeting Software Can Help

    The only way to fully enhance nonprofit governance is by supplying the board with leading-edge tools for decision-making and record-keeping. Luckily, Boardable’s got you covered. We offer an end-to-end solution for hosting virtual board meetings that’s affordable for any cause. Let’s dive into the key features our powerful virtual board meeting software offers nonprofit boards just like yours!

    1. Easily Set up Board Members’ Accounts.

    Our platform makes it simple to start planning and hosting your own virtual board meetings! First, you’ll need to make sure all of your board members have logged into Boardable and have downloaded the mobile app, available in both the Apple App Store and Google Play Store. If they haven’t had a chance to log in yet, simply resend their invitation to get them up and running.

    For your less tech-savvy (or reluctant) board members, share our quick video to help them through the first login. Once they log in the first time, they’ll see just how easy it is to use! Take a look below:

    2. Create a Dynamic Agenda.

    If you recall, a well-crafted agenda is the foundation of any successful board meeting! Boardable offers the tools you need to quickly create your own agenda directly within our platform once you’ve saved your meeting details. If you have a preferred format, it will take no time at all to transfer it into Boardable. Simply save a template of your favorite agenda and reuse it whenever you want!

    In the agenda, facilitate the transition between topics by setting a time limit and assigning each agenda item to a person. Remember to include the meeting details and the virtual meeting link in the agenda!

    For a more collaborative virtual board meeting, add links to shared documents from Google Drive, Dropbox, or Onedrive. If you don’t need to collaborate on the document, go ahead and upload them straight into the agenda.

    3. Easily facilitate a video or in-person meeting.

    You can host a virtual meeting right in Boardable, without needing to use other apps or tabs. Using Boardable Meetings with Video, you can simply add users to a meeting in Boardable. All they have to do is click “Join Video Call” and a video screen will pop up for all attendees. Additionally, the agenda and other meeting documents will show up on the left panel of the video window. Your meeting admin can take meeting minutes directly in the frame. Attendees can look at all the meeting documents, raise a hand to speak, screen share, view meeting details, and more.

    Boardable Meetings with Video press "join call"

     

    Using Boardable Meetings with Video allows your team to join from anywhere, any time. Even if you’re meeting in person, the handy unified document viewing and other digital tools make conducting a meeting more efficient than ever.

    Boardable Meetings with Video Presenting Documents

    3. Quickly Make Time-Sensitive Decisions with Polls.

    As we discussed earlier, polling capabilities are a must-have feature for remote board meetings. You can include polls in the meeting to conduct voting or decision making. Even if one or two of your board members are remote, they can still participate and be part of the team!

    Be sure to create the poll before the meeting, so you’re ready to collect all votes or answers with the click of a button. After you have added all the relevant information, publish the meeting. Just like that, your attendees will now be able to RSVP and effectively prepare for your upcoming virtual board meeting. Plus, the comprehensive dashboard displays upcoming polls (as well as past ones) to keep everyone focused on key items and ensure polls are completed in a timely manner!

    4. Assign Roles.

    Running a virtual board meeting requires a different, more hands-on level of facilitation than in-person discussions. So your remote board meeting will flow as smoothly as possible, we recommend assigning roles.

    Within Boardable, you’ll find there are several options for assigning roles and responsibilities. Here are a few recommended duties that you can assign:

    • Designated notetaker – This might be your board secretary or admin.

    • Designated facilitator – This is a different person than the one taking minutes. This individual is in charge of screen sharing.

    • Designated timekeeper – This individual ensures that everyone is adhering to the agenda times and staying on track.

    • Technical point person – This individual ideally will help with technical troubleshooting, so the entire meeting doesn’t get derailed by simple logistics.

    Careful planning and the right tools are necessary for effective gatherings. By researching some simple digital solutions and maximizing your Boardable account, you can have a great virtual board meeting from anywhere, even if attendees are scattered across the globe!

    Create your free Boardable account to see how our software can improve your virtual board meetings.


    Virtual board meetings can be a powerful tool, and just like any solution, this concept presents unique challenges and benefits. Whatever your nonprofit board’s reason for going digital is, it’s crucial that you have the right processes in place.

    Now that you’re well-versed on the components of effective virtual board meetings, you can head into your next one with confidence. Just make sure you’re backed by the powerful nonprofit board tools to get you there!

    To continue your research, we’ve assembled a list of resources that we thought you might find useful. Take a look and explore each one to become a virtual board meeting expert:

    Want a comprehensive PDF guide to share with your team? Improve meetings across your whole organization with this Virtual Meeting Guide. 

    Grab a free copy of "What You Need to Know About Hosting Effective Virtual Meetings" and discover how to conduct incredible virtual board meetings.

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