A New Era for Execs
Board Dynamics

What’s Missing From Your Board’s Operations Playbook?

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From efficient onboarding to strategic planning, the right tools can go a long way toward improving board effectiveness.

The boardroom tends to be built with a certain tradition in mind—think Robert’s Rules of Order, not far from its 150th anniversary.

There’s a good reason for hewing to tradition: When the process is clear and understandable, your association’s board is well positioned to focus on the big picture rather than the mechanics of running board meetings.

But in an era when routines are changing and making us question processes, boards could benefit from a modern approach. Start here:

Orient Your Board Effectively

Association board members are often taking leadership roles in the nonprofit space for the first time, so there’s a lot to learn—and not gaining a sufficient understanding of their new responsibility can affect their entire tenure.

But the right tactics can help. Patti Montague, CAE, FASAE, the CEO of the School Nutrition Association (SNA), said her association changed the way it approached orientation for its board members—many of whom work in school district settings—as a result of the pandemic.

“Pre-COVID, we used to do it as part of another meeting,” she said. “We would pull people out of a leadership conference that we bring our state leaders in for, and we used to pull the board for 3½ hours—after them being in a day-and-a-half board meeting.”

COVID-19 drove a shift toward Zoom meetings—which allowed SNA to chunk up orientation sessions into more manageable bites—as well as ongoing touch points. Montague often shares articles and books that support the lessons she wants to impart. “We’re trying to reinforce their learning and make it a continuous process,” she said.

As another example, Francesca M. Dea, CAE, the CEO of SCAI: The Society for Cardiovascular Angiography and Interventions, said her organization leans on a full-day formal training session for its president-elect. The twist? The session is then repeated just before they become president, giving the incoming official a deeper understanding of what’s at hand.

“The first time, they really start to absorb it—and then they go through it with the lens of ‘this is all me next year,’” she said.

“We don’t spend a lot of time during board meetings going over reports.” — Patti Montague, FASAE, CAE, School Nutrition Association

Build an Agenda With Strategy in Mind

Another key to board optimization: Start with strategy. That doesn’t mean rigidly adhering to a predetermined course. Sometimes, it helps to allow room to adapt, noted Dea, who said that SCAI leans on a strategic framework of five guiding principles, each with five distinct objectives.

“Each year, there is a drill-down on the tactical, practical pieces of things that we should be doing to help us get to that longer-term goal,” she said.

This framework sets the annual agenda while also creating strategic touch points for in-person meetings. Recently, the board adopted a policy that ties each discussion on the meeting agenda to one of the guiding principles.

“We highlight what objective on the framework it’s related to and what we have achieved on that framework, so as to focus conversations even more specifically around that,” Dea said.

Another way SCAI ensures fidelity to its strategy is with Minutes Solutions, which assists in tracking the minutes of every meeting so users can properly follow up on each discussion after the fact—and which can be used to drive future discussions.

“We can actually look at them, refer to them relatively easily, and find out what’s going on without wading through pages and pages,” Dea said.

This has proved so valuable that all of SCAI’s committees use Minutes Solutions. Dea added that the consistency of keeping everyone on the same tool “makes our governance a lot more efficient.”

Use Technology to Be Efficient and Effective

Having too many tech tools can get in the way of a board’s work. But when used strategically, tech can be a major value-add.

For example, in recent years, SNA has moved toward a discussion-oriented approach for its in-person board meetings, allowing for deeper conversations about challenges in school nutrition.

“We don’t spend a lot of time during board meetings going over reports,” Montague said.

But board members still need the value that those staid, information-heavy meetings provided. So SNA integrated the board management platform OnBoard, allowing information to be efficiently delivered to board members ahead of time and freeing in-person meetings to focus on high-level issues.

“It’s helped streamline our processes, not just for us but for our board members in terms of being able to find the information,” Montague said. It also helps protect sensitive data by eliminating the need for file transfer issues.

“Whenever you make a change, you can easily email the board and let them know that a change or something new has been updated or posted—very intuitive,” she said.

When trying to uncover the right approach for your board’s needs, finding the pain points, and mitigating them, is key. After all, it should make your board’s life easier—not get in the way.

ASAE Business Solutions is a portfolio of essential enterprise solutions designed to help associations grow and prosper. We know associations, and we put that expertise to work every day to design, build, and deliver solutions that help you solve critical business needs, save time and money, and succeed in meeting your mission. See for yourself what a difference ASAE Business Solutions can make in your association’s efficiency, productivity, and bottom line. Visit asaebusinesssolutions.org.

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