August 13, 2014

How to Avoid Choosing the Wrong Board Portal

Inefficient nonprofit boards lead to disengaged board members. Combine that with the weighty responsibilities of board members—which include rallying community support, spearheading fundraising efforts, and bringing invaluable strategic consult to the table—and low board engagement can put your organization’s future in jeopardy.

Many nonprofits are turning to board portals to remedy low board engagement. Board portals centralize all board-related information, including meeting materials, organizational documentation, task assignments and member records. They can make meeting coordination, task management, member performance management, and regulatory compliance more efficient and effective.

However, the secret to success is choosing a platform that accommodates your organizational needs and supplements existing board management weaknesses. Otherwise, you may have just bought your nonprofit an expensive digital Rolodex.

Below are four steps to guide the nonprofit board technology selection process.

1. Bring decision makers to the table.  

Board portals are growing in popularity, but that doesn’t mean they are interchangeable. They differ by sector, organization size, functionality, and price.

In order to select a software product that’s right for your organization, you need to assemble the right team:

  • C-suite: CEO, COO, or executive director with financial authority to sign off on the chosen product
  • Board officers: Chair, secretary, and/or treasurer to vet products from the board member perspective
  • Board management administrator: Board manager, administrative coordinator, or administrative assistant to provide insight on board management tasks and review as an end user

Bringing various perspectives together ensures all affected parties are represented in the decision-making process.

2. Document organizational needs and expectations.

If you don’t know what your board needs, you’re unlikely to select the best tool. Complete a thorough audit of all processes and requirements related to board management:

  • Conduct process mapping. Document your current processes in order to better understand shortcomings and identify specific steps that can be taken to improve process. How are you scheduling meetings and sending reminders? How are board communications and information distributed? Where are you housing necessary compliance documents, such as 990s, conflict of interest policies and procedures, and independent director requirements?
  • Evaluate board member expectations. If your nonprofit bylaws don’t currently have performance expectations for board members, it’s critical to discuss these as an organization. Purchase a solution that helps you track and report on agreed-upon performance. Are they focused on attendance? Committee leadership? Annual giving and fundraising? The type of expectations you set for your board will influence the board portal features that are right for you.
  • Identify ancillary systems. Record all databases, technologies or systems that must interact with the selected board portal. This might include data input, data exporting or a full integration. Consider how frequently data must be transferred, and define the degree of integration your future board portal must support.

After you see your current system on paper, you may notice redundancies, inefficiencies, or opportunities for automation. Thorough documentation of your needs will also prevent the selection team from getting distracted by shiny technology features and steer you toward technology that is compatible with your organizational needs.

3. Identify your feature requirements.

With your board management audit complete, your team can begin to translate these needs into software feature requirements. Examples of board portal features to consider include:

  • Upload board and committee contact information
  • Designate level of access for staff and board
  • Synchronize meetings to board members’ personal calendars
  • Automate email communication to be sent at regular intervals
  • Assign tasks to board members and staff
  • Manage board and committee RSVPs and attendance
  • Manage, track, and report on member expectations and performance
  • Track member skills, demographics, and detailed profile information
  • Manage and track board member terms
  • Store 990s, conflict of interest policies and procedures, and independent director requirements
  • Create ballots and polls

This is also a good time to determine your budget. Take the time to calculate your annual spend—both in time and labor—on board management. In doing so, you will be able to articulate the full ROI of a board portal, both in fixed costs and intangibles like a more efficient board, better management and engagement of members, and more effective board meetings.

4. Compare board portal solutions side-by-side.

Once you know what you need, start comparing platforms against your list of necessary and nice-to-have features. As you reach out to vendors for demos, we recommend creating a side-by-side comparison of functionality, so you can quickly see at a glance which solution will provide the most value to your organization.

Also be sure to include notes on the user interface, platform flexibility, hosting (cloud-based or on-premises), and pricing structure so that you have a full picture of each option available.

With advanced thought and planning, you can be confident that you’ve done due diligence on behalf of your organization, and that you will select the right portal for your board.

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Adam Roth
Adam Roth is the President and CEO of StreamLink Software. The company’s flagship grant management solution, AmpliFund, automates hundreds of complex activities throughout the grant lifecycle, thus freeing up valuable resources to pursue additional funding. Its board management portal, BoardMax, helps organizations engage and communicate with board members.
Interest Categories: Operations
Tags: board, nonprofit management