Agenda item 12: Build - and use - a board portal
I've written about the idea of a board portal before, but including this recommendation as a part of this year's "governance agenda item" series makes good sense - especially after I've had time to experience using one in this particular context.
A board portal is a private, online space and on-demand resource center for members. What is possible in a portal depends on the tool selected. In general, though, a board portal can be used to:
- Store foundational documents (e.g., by-laws, member lists, budget)
- Gather and share meeting materials (saving time and money)
- Create committee workspaces and document repositories
- Schedule meetings
- Create an ongoing board calendar
- Set up quick polls to capture board member sentiment or a topic
- (In some tools) Send text message reminders
- (In some tools) Convene video or audio conference calls
I'd long used portals and portal-like resources (e.g., wikis) for team projects in other settings. Once I helped the board referenced in my earlier post select a tool (Wiggio), set it up for the group, and experienced its value in this specific context, my assumptions about the value of a portal to support governance work were confirmed.
If the only thing your board accomplishes in setting up a portal or similar space is providing space to store and share important documents, so that they are readily accessible, it is time well spent. I personally have a workable system for storing board files offline, but having the portal ensured that those resources are available all members whenever they need them.
It should be a collaborative space, where everyone can share and contribute (vs. the usual one-way flow of materials from the executive director). I was pleasantly surprised to see other members sharing reports with the larger group within a day or two of the space being set up. Those members had a new vehicle for sharing information with us, in a timely manner. As a recipient, I felt in the loop and better prepared for whatever discussion might evolve. It also meant that we could actually spend that time discussing, rather than listening to a verbal version of the same report. (No, none of this surprises. It just confirms what I've been advocating all along here.)
Something as simple as having a common calendar can be huge for busy adults juggling multiple responsibilities. If we want to confirm the next meeting, or the time of the funder site visit, we can do so instantly. It's as close as our computer or, depending on the tool, our mobile device.
Different tools offer options that your board may find useful. Bells and whistles for their own sake aren't helpful. But some (e.g., text messaging service) can enhance board members' need to know, their level of engagement, and their access to the resources they need to govern successfully.
Spend some time identifying member needs that a board portal might be able to fulfill. Spend some time exploring tool options. You'll find a growing pool of possibilities, with a range of options, from free to paid services.
Build a portal and build your board's capacity to make informed decisions and work in effective ways.