Organizational Health

Virtual Board Meetings for Nonprofits: A guide for success

Board meetings are no longer limited to face to face meet-ups in a boardroom, and some are wondering if virtual board meetings will stay the new normal well past the pandemic.

With an ever-increasingly connected world, board members of nonprofits, foundations and charities don’t need to be confined within the same state or even in the same country. Some may even be doing their work in other parts of the world remotely.

This is why there is a need for establishing virtual board meetings that can run smoothly and efficiently for a nonprofit.

These meetings allow members of a nonprofit board to meet and make crucial decisions from afar while harnessing the latest in nonprofit technology. So how do virtual board meetings work and how can your nonprofit benefit from them? Continue reading to find out.

What is a virtual board meeting?

A virtual board meeting is an online meeting sponsored by the organization where members can join wherever they may choose to view it. Attendees in these meetings participate remotely using a computer or a mobile device such as a phone or a tablet and an internet connection.

The first thing that you will notice about these meetings is that they are very convenient. Board members don’t need to travel to another location just to attend these meetings. They also don’t have to haul any equipment to make their presentations.

The people participating here can still share their insights. One member can take the lead in the meeting (aka facilitate the meeting for everyone), and everyone can interact person-to-person via direct messaging or as a group.

Zoom for virtual meetings
Zoom has become one of the most popular virtual meeting options for nonprofit organizations.

Video conferencing tools are the technology used for these meetings. Each board member will have to install their own copy of the video conferencing software that will be used. It is usually free and can be downloaded off the web. Some of these software systems also have premium features, which come with a fee.

Why should nonprofits consider virtual board meetings?

There are several key benefits that nonprofit board members can take advantage of. Health concerns nowadays are one of the reasons why video conference meetings have become the norm. Of course, there are other benefits as well, such as time constraints, expensive travel, and others.

Virtual board meetings provide an effective solution to all these issues. Here are some of the key benefits to a nonprofit board when they opt to go virtual for these gatherings.

1. It increases attendance from your board of directors

There is a tendency for virtual board meetings to have more people attending them. First off, it makes the meeting more convenient since they can just turn on a mobile device and join the meeting right then and there.

This is a great way to meet the quorum requirements in case a majority decision needs to be made. It’s a wonderful catchall solution!

Since all board members are expected to have at least a phone or laptop, then accessibility to the meeting is no longer a huge issue. There is no traffic that you have to beat, no tight meeting schedules that you have to juggle, and no travel stress that will bog you down.

In short, you eliminate a lot of the usual hurdles to quorum attendance such as:

  • Travel issues
  • Travel expenses
  • Tight deadlines
  • Scheduling problems

The convenience of these online conference meetings increases the likelihood of participation. There is fundamentally very little excuse for your board members not to attend these rather important meetings.

You should understand that nonprofit board members lead very busy lives, professionally and personally. Adding an element of convenience to board meeting attendance is a huge plus for them.

2. It’s easier to bring in outside people for expert consultation

Getting an expert opinion can sometimes be very helpful, especially when you need to make a huge decision. However, when these professionals have to lug their bags and presentation tools, it opens up chances for delays and equipment malfunction.

In a virtual setting, even your expert advisors don’t need to be in the same room as you. They can stay in their offices and get their presentations prepared. They don’t even have to listen to the discussion going on in your virtual board room.

When it’s time to call on them, you can just invite them into your virtual meeting by sending them a link to the virtual board room. They will then log in, present material on the ready, and just do their thing.

Microsoft Teams for nonprofits
Microsoft Teams, for example, also has a breakout rooms feature, where you can split up into smaller groups for committee meetings or brainstorming sessions.

Once they’re done your board members can ask their questions, make up their minds, and your expert consultant can logout. Your board members can then continue discussions and make their decisions.

3. Increased governance

Board meetings don’t need to take a lot of time. In fact, you can lay down the rules of the meeting such as muting the microphone while in session turning it on just when they have something to say during the meeting.

The facilitator of the meeting can keep the conversation going and focus. This makes meetings more productive and boosts the board engagement. This setup also supports capable governance during the meeting.

Virtual board meetings can also be held on the spot during an emergency. Let’s say an important matter comes up. You can easily contact everyone in the board and call for an emergency meeting. This allows nonprofits to make important time-sensitive decisions fast.

4. Support for non-attendees

Another feature of virtual board meetings is that the meetings themselves can be recorded for the benefit of the members who weren’t able to attend. Yes, people can still miss these virtual meetings, unfortunately.

The good news is that the board members that missed the meeting don’t need to rely on transcripts or the minutes of these meetings. They can view the recordings and see and hear exactly what transpired during these meetings.

5. Increases diversity within the team

Online board meetings have opened the doors for more board members to join in. Note that video conferencing software tools also have limits to attendees. But they’re usually enough to allow all board members to come and participate.

Some conferencing tools allow as many as 500 users to go online live during these virtual meetings. They still enjoy high-quality video and audio even though the number of participants has grown quite large.

Of course, you don’t really have a board of directors numbering in the hundreds of both for-profit and nonprofit organizations.

With the convenience of being able to join these meetings from across the globe, your nonprofit foundation can increase the diversity of the membership of your board. You can now increase the geographic and social diversity within your team.

This enhanced diversity opens up to new perspectives that your previously limited team could not have foreseen. You can tap into unique insights, understand local concerns, and allow your team to think outside the box.

Amazon Chime is a unique option for board meetings due to its pay-as-you-go pricing model, meaning you only pay for the virtual meeting tool when you use it.

This will help your board members to make policy changes and enact programs that will be more relevant to the places and people that they influence. These virtual meetings also allow for more accessibility so that people from different walks of life can better participate in them as well.

Challenges of virtual board meetings for nonprofits

As more nonprofits transition into virtual meetings online, they are also met with new challenges. It’s a new avenue after all, and you can’t expect everyone to know exactly what to do once they’re in one of these meetings.

In fact, you may even have trouble setting it up for some members of your board. Here are some of the biggest challenges that nonprofit boards may face when they make the shift to online meet-ups.

1. Internet connectivity

Not every country has great internet.  In fact, some third world countries may even have substandard connections. If some of the members of your foundation are joining in from these locations, they may encounter spotty and intermittent connectivity.

That would reduce the quality of their experience during these meetings. At times, it can also be quite discouraging. The good news is that there are video conferencing tools that do not require a lot of bandwidth but still give you quality video and audio feeds.

Remember to choose the platform that can accommodate the needs of all your participants.

Don’t feel locked into only one video conferencing tool. You can use multiple tools as needed for virtual board meetings, virtual events, etc. It also increases the technical capabilities of your foundation.

2. Security

Security is always an issue when you do things online—such as video conferencing. These meetings usually involve a lot of confidentiality and a lot of information discussed in these meetings is supposed to be held in confidence.

Be sure to review the level of security that can be provided by the conferencing software that you will use.

3. Reduced engagement from the board members

Regular face to face meetings can be challenging already. Sometimes, it may be difficult to maintain the interest of the people in attendance. The problem is magnified when you take the meeting to the digital realm where there is very little physical interaction between the participants.

Tips to increase engagement from your virtual board meetings

  • Use a clear agenda that is sent well in advance
  • Keep meetings short
  • Set expectations early
  • Involve board members in the creation of the agenda
  • Focus on 1 to 3 issues to be discussed to increase focus
  • Distribute copies (via email) of the agenda in advance
  • Increase participation by asking members to say something or comment on particular issues that they are involved with.
  • Don’t allow discussions to stall or lag; move on to the next topic quickly.

Nonprofits can take advantage of virtual board meetings to increase productivity and commitment between board members. It is a convenient solution to today’s health and safety issues, and other relevant concerns.