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Jeb Banner 18 min read

Strategies to communicate with your nonprofit board remotely

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 has brought unique challenges and obstacles that nobody could have expected. But even in the midst of social distancing guidelines and economic uncertainty, nonprofits have found creative ways to fundraise, engage supporters, and continue their work. 

After all, the needs of many constituents are more pressing than ever, and nonprofits must continue to provide critical resources. The show must go on!

To pivot these initiatives effectively, nonprofits must depend on their board members’ support and advice. The board is one of the most important assets a nonprofit has in its corner for handling everything from crisis situations to the status quo. With this in mind, board communication is another key task that must be adapted to fit the needs of our current circumstances.

While removing the board from the boardroom may seem challenging, there are plenty of remote communication strategies that will allow you to mobilize members to drive your mission forward.

At Boardable, we build tools to meet the unique needs of nonprofit boards, whether they need to meet remotely or in-person. Based on what we’ve seen work well in recent months, we’ve compiled a few best practices for remote board communications:

  1. Refine your remote board meeting strategy.
  2. Keep board members connected and informed.
  3. Host a virtual board retreat to drive engagement.
  4. Continue to cultivate relationships.

The right virtual board communication strategies will build a strong foundation for your nonprofit’s mission-critical work. Let’s jump in.

1. Refine your remote board meeting strategy.

When the pandemic first hit, organizations across various sectors had to work quickly to pivot operations and build patchwork solutions for essential tasks. 

For your nonprofit board, this may have meant opting for whatever remote meeting plan you could implement as quickly as possible. Tools like email chains and conference calls helped boards make the switch without losing momentum, but they may just be a souped-up virtual version of exactly what you were doing before (complete with any existing inefficiencies).

These band-aid fixes may have worked well enough at first, but now it’s time to revisit your remote meeting strategy and make improvements. After all, social distancing guidelines aren’t going to be eliminated anytime soon, so virtual board meetings are the new normal for the time being. 

If your board can learn how to make the most of virtual meetings, you’ll be able to save time, get more done, and create a bigger impact on your community. 

As you assess your remote meeting strategy, consider the following questions:

  • Is your board collaborating to develop (and follow!) a clear agenda ahead of time?
  • Have you established protocols for video meeting etiquette?
  • Do your video conferencing tools facilitate engagement activities like discussions or polling?
  • Are your board members attending and participating regularly?
  • Have you designated key roles like minutes-taker, timekeeper, and technical point person?

Beyond answering these questions, we also recommend soliciting anonymous feedback from your board members to determine any additional areas of improvement unique to your organization.

With the right strategies and tools in place (which we’ll discuss more later), you might even find you prefer meeting virtually to gathering in-person!

The Boardable team put together a list of just a few benefits of virtual board meetings, which you can see below.

  • Increased attendance. After all, opening a laptop is much easier than driving across town! Remote meetings will help you respect the busy schedules of your board members. 
  • Greater board diversity. Virtual meetings eliminate geographic limitations, which unlocks new opportunities for membership. You could invite members from across the country (or even the world) to bring a unique perspective to the table. Plus, a wider range of members connects your organization to multiple community networks.
  • Enhanced nonprofit governance. Virtual meetings enable focused, productive conversation in a secure environment. This allows board leaders to make key decisions quickly and communicate throughout the crisis.

Even after the era of physical isolation is over, these advantages of virtual board meetings will still hold true. These benefits will strengthen your board’s ability to have productive conversations that drive your mission forward.

2. Keep board members connected and informed.

A sound virtual meeting strategy is important, but it’s also critical to maintain an active line of communication between meetings. However, as you’re likely well-aware, communication between a busy group of individuals can get chaotic quickly. 

Between texting about an upcoming event, deciding on a meeting time through lengthy email chains, and routinely updating and distributing countless attachments, there’s a lot to keep track of! Especially when you don’t have the chance to follow up about assigned activities in person, things can easily fall through the cracks. The last thing you need is for everyone to log onto the next virtual meeting and realize a crucial task got skipped.

When you’re communicating remotely, it’s more important than ever to stay organized and ensure everyone is on the same page. To help you do this, specialized board software (like our platform) can keep all the essential communication tools and documents in one centralized location. 

With streamlined communication tools, your board members will be able to stay connected and informed at all times. This saves time and energy that you can redirect towards mission-critical activities like virtual fundraising. 

As you consider the best solution for your nonprofit, look for software that offers board management features such as:

  • Task delegation. This will help ensure projects are running smoothly and on-time.
  • A communication portal. Centralized communication is more convenient than dozens of email threads and text chains.
  • Video conferencing. This tool is critical to being able to host your remote meetings.
  • Scheduling tools. Scheduling features make it easier to coordinate the availability of your busy members.
  • Safety and security. It’s wise to minimize the risk of data breaches whenever you can.
  • Dynamic agenda and minutes tools. It’s helpful to create and store key documentation all in one place.

With these features, board software makes for a useful addition to any nonprofit’s software toolkit. Just be sure to distribute detailed instructions so that even members who aren’t as experienced with technology will be able to get up and running. However, with intuitive and user-friendly software, the learning curve should be minimal. 

3. Host a virtual board retreat to drive engagement.

As you adapt your communication strategy, you may discover that the pandemic has deflated board member morale or led to decreased engagement.

A board retreat can help your board members connect as a team, reinvigorate their passion for your mission, and create a strategic vision for your organization.  All of these objectives can still be met virtually if you have the right tools in place! As you start planning your virtual board retreat, keep these best practices in mind:

  • Consider retreat length. While a traditional board retreat would occur over an entire weekend or a long afternoon, you’ll want to limit the time of your virtual retreat to a few hours. With a shorter time frame, you’ll need to be more strategic about what to include. If you have a lot of ground to cover, consider breaking up the retreat into multiple sessions so everyone gets a break and a brief reprieve from technology.
  • Determine goals. Decide whether your retreat is primarily for team building, strategic planning, or some of both. Setting an overall intention for the retreat will help you to plan more specific activities and points for discussion.
  • Test tools ahead of time. As Fonteva’s guide to virtual events advises, technical difficulties may arise, so make sure to test and troubleshoot everything beforehand to solve any problems. You should also communicate instructions clearly to board members to confirm everyone understands how to get connected and participate.
  • Create an agenda. Just like with a virtual meeting, an agenda is the best way to keep your retreat running smoothly. Keep your retreat goals and the capabilities of your meeting software in mind as you plan. Activities like breakout sessions and Q&As can work very well in a virtual format.
  • Start with an icebreaker. Even in a remote environment, you’ll still want to kick off with a bonding activity to set the right tone for the retreat. Sure, maybe you won’t be able to play human knot, but maybe that’s not such a bad thing. 

A virtual board retreat can help you reinvigorate your team and continue to create support for your mission, even in our current circumstances. And with a virtual retreat, you won’t need to deal with the hassle of renting a venue, so it may be an even more effective use of resources than an in-person retreat.

4. Continue to cultivate relationships.

Your nonprofit probably spends a lot of time and effort building strong and mutually beneficial donor relationships. This priority should also extend to building strong relationships with board members.

When your board members feel unified as a group, bonded to your mission, and in sync with leadership, they will be better positioned to advocate for your cause. You can encourage these close ties by emphasizing an open, collaborative, and positive environment in all of your board’s activities.

Put simply, a disconnected board won’t be as successful. Luckily, effective communication practices and relationships go hand in hand, so following the other tips on this list will put you on the path to success.

Throughout your remote communication efforts, keep the following relationship-building principles in mind:

  • Collaboration In a remote environment, it can be challenging to foster the same atmosphere of collaboration that occurs naturally in person. To reach the same level of discussion, you’ll need to be more intentional. For instance, build a dedicated time for member participation into your board meeting agenda, such as at the very beginning. Then, continue throughout the meeting to pointedly ask for feedback and questions as you transition between topics.
  • Openness. Remind your members that the remote boardroom is still an inclusive environment open to all ideas. Your board will be much more effective if people are comfortable sharing fresh perspectives, even if they are in disagreement.
  • Trust. In an online setting where people are used to a lack of privacy, board members may be hesitant to share sensitive information or debate controversial issues. Remind board members that meeting information will still be kept confidential. Choosing secure board software can help mitigate the cybersecurity risk to any proprietary or confidential information.
  • Empathy. Your busy board members may have even more stressors in their lives than usual. Between working remotely, homeschooling young kids, or handling social isolation, it’s possible your board members can’t dedicate as much time to your organization as usual. If you notice that someone isn’t fulfilling their obligations, hold an honest but empathetic conversation to address the issue. Do your best to hold members accountable while still being understanding. 

Focusing on these concepts will boost the emotional side of your communications, leading to a more cohesive board overall. When your board members feel more comfortable and connected, they’re more likely to generate the insights and decisions your nonprofit needs to thrive.

Your nonprofit’s board is critical to the continued growth of your organization. Although COVID-19 may have created a few roadblocks, boards can still continue to communicate and congregate effectively in virtual settings. These strategies will ensure your board is set up for success and collaboration throughout the social distancing era and beyond.

Jeb Banner

Jeb is the founder and CEO of Boardable, a nonprofit board management software provider. He is also the founder of two nonprofits, The Speak Easy and Musical Family Tree, as well as a board member of United Way of Central Indiana and ProAct. As the CEO and a Founder of Boardable, Jeb is passionate about community nonprofits, entrepreneurship, and more. Boardable is an online board management portal that centralizes communication, document storage, meeting planning, and everything else that goes into running a board of directors. Jeb is based in Indianapolis, Indiana.