Calling Into Nonprofit Board Meetings: Is It Worth It?
Just like any working professional, your nonprofit board members have busy lives. While they are trying to juggle between their work and personal lives, it might be necessary for you to implement some flexibility when it comes to dealing with unavoidable conflicts. This method certainly is practical for those who are not able to attend a meeting, but virtual participation can also present some challenges.
The Call-In Controversy
There are many controversial issues for boards to discuss regarding board management software, but a recent topic of interest has been whether board members should be allowed to attend board meetings virtually instead of being physically present. In a recent lunch meeting, many executives agreed that in general, calling into a meeting should be viewed as an alternative to in-person attendance, but should not become a common practice.
The ability to attend meetings virtually gives board members with hectic schedules and extenuating circumstances the ability to participate in the conversation without being present. At board meetings, it is common for the organization to vote on certain matters. When people are missing from the meeting, important issues cannot be decided.
Calling into a meeting still allows a quorum to be met and keeps time-sensitive projects on schedule, rather than delaying for a repeat vote. By giving those who cannot attend the ability to communicate virtually, you are essentially giving them a chance to contribute to the conversation.
While call-in attendance can be convenient, if board members see that calling into the meeting is a common option, it can negatively impact in-person attendance. Some organizations have reported that when they allow call-ins, there are not as many people who attend meetings in person, altering the overall group dynamic. It is important to consider this option in the long-term, as boards grapple with remote attendance.
Generally, it is more difficult for board members to be engaged in a meeting when they are listening in on a device as opposed to being present. Sometimes the device acts as a barrier of communication, where call-in attendees are only listening and voting on motions, instead of engaging and offering insight.
One method to help everyone engage is to require video conferencing when members must work remotely. It is true that humans relate to faces, and being able to see facial expressions helps to improve communication and engagement.
Ways to Make Remote Attendance Work
Before definitively implementing remote attendance, see how it goes for a couple of meetings. If your nonprofit generally struggles with meeting quorum, it may actually increase overall attendance. However, in the longer term, your board needs to decide how much remote attendance is acceptable. For example, you could specify the call-in option is only an alternative if you are physically unable to attend.
If you do choose to make the change, it may be necessary to put a limit on the number of times a board member can participate by calling in. This prevents people from abusing the rule and can keep members accountable to prioritize attending meetings in-person.
Be aware that by allowing members to vote by phone or video conference, it may require you to change your organization’s bylaws. If you haven’t changed your bylaws, members on the phone can only participate in the conversation and will not be allowed to vote.
Tips for keeping communication methods on track include:
- Create and emphasize communication strategy. It is important that a communication strategy is created so when/if remote attendance is allowed, everyone knows the rules and expectations from the start.
- Keep the minutes and notes clear. Each and every member should know who is in charge of what and which member is in charge of discussing each agenda item. This keeps meetings efficient and focused so everyone knows what to expect, whether or not they are there in person.
- Nip issues in the bud. If any issues arise, make sure they are taken care of quickly. Nothing can derail a meeting faster than communication issues and resentment. From these issues, create strategies for avoiding future problems.
The Final Say
Remote board meeting attendance can be beneficial for a modern nonprofit organization as a way to accommodate unexpected barriers to physical attendance. However, it is crucial for you to outline clear expectations for this method. If you are willing to implement this practice, your board will be grateful for your thoughtfulness and consideration of the realities of modern life.
Jeb Banner 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 Central Indiana and ProAct. Jeb is based in Indianapolis, Ind.
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.