Beware of “digital duct tape.” Boards need to have email capabilities. Each person has their preferred provider, whether that is Outlook, Gmail, or any number of other options. They also need document storage options like Dropbox. Scheduling tools such as Doodle are helpful for coordinating dates with a large group of people. Don’t forget to pick a calendar and try to sync it up with everyone else’s. Some people like to make documents in Google Docs, while others use Microsoft products. It’s easy to see how a single meeting can be held together by ten pieces of “digital duct tape.”
So, what’s the problem? These are all great solutions, right? One or two of these could be a great supplement to a comprehensive board management software, but relying entirely on these disparate measures becomes a mess. Did the board admin store the last minutes in her Google docs or in Dropbox? The governance committee chair accidentally hit “reply all” and now someone on the staff sees confidential performance reviews of the CEO. Digital duct tape works well, until it doesn’t. It is today’s solution and tomorrow’s mess. It’s understandable how organizations start out relying on digital duct tape, but it isn’t a long-term solution. Board management software is the most professional way forward.
Too many features leads to poor adoption by board members. There’s always the temptation when shopping for software that “more is better.” It makes sense at first, right? If you’re paying for something, you might as well get every single bell and whistle in existence! Unfortunately, that line of thinking ignores one critical element: human nature. Adopting new board software can be a bit of a cultural hurdle. People are often resistant to change and unknowns, and technology can magnify this tendency.
Consider your typical board member. They are generally accomplished in their professional life. That means they are already busy, and might be wary of adding learning another digital tool to their long to-do list. Because board members are established professionally and in the community, they tend to be older than a “digital native” and not necessarily enjoy technology for its own sake. Software solutions with so many features that they require hours and hours of training might solicit a hard “no” board members out of the gate. A long list of extraordinary features is useless if your board members don’t use it. Don’t let the digital feature overload hamstring your efforts to make your board efficient.
Don’t pay for what you don’t need. Digital bloat isn’t only a barrier to adoption, it also impacts the bottom line. Do you really need to pay hundreds of extra dollars each month for digital signatures that you use a few times a year? This is one simple piece of digital duct tape that is efficient, free, and easy to use as an accessory app to your main board management software. If you can manage all your communication, document storage, and meeting planning in one portal, eliminating the cost of features like digital signatures that you only occasionally use makes sense.
Large, unwieldy board management software programs offer expensive features that are in some cases not only unnecessary, but damaging. Two prime examples of dangerous features are live document updating and private chat features. Boards of directors have a duty to keep accurate records and guard against ethical gray areas. Some legacy board software companies charge premium fees for the ability of multiple people to simultaneously edit the same document. That might be helpful for a business presentation, but it is a nightmare for legal record keeping. NGOs also have a vested interest in preserving transparency. Chat features are common in board software behemoths, but they are a huge liability for nonprofits. The perfect recipe for ethical disaster is the ability to alter documents simultaneously and then have a private chat about it!
When shopping for board management software, it’s important to give real consideration to what amount of digital duct tape is acceptable, how much board members are willing to learn, what features are actually needed, and what any “extras” will cost. Try a software review site to compare your needs with costs, and take full advantage of free trials offered by most software providers. With careful consideration and research, a better board member experience is within reach.
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. Jeb is based in Indianapolis, Indiana.
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.