Many organizations are holding virtual board meetings that allow board members to be present via phone and web-based applications instead of in person, face-to-face meetings. This option isn’t without obstacles, but it can ease board member attendance problems as well as help with recruitment challenges.
Improve your board participation
Full board meeting attendance can be difficult to achieve in our busy, fast-paced world. However, virtual meetings can help alleviate that problem by allowing members to attend meetings they otherwise couldn’t. In addition, the options for virtual meetings could attract potential board members to your organization because it eliminates the expectation that they must show up, in person at every meeting.
Of course, virtual meetings aren’t without obstacles. In teleconferences, participants won’t be able to read each other’s facial expressions and body language. Even in videoconferences, participants may be unable to observe these cues as easily as they could in person. This can potentially lead to misunderstandings or conflicts.
The chair might find it difficult to shepherd discussion, especially with larger boards. Confidentiality is a concern, too. You must be able to trust that the board members are alone in their remote locations and that no outsiders are privy to the discussions.
Prepare for your meetings
Virtual board meetings require extensive preparation, particularly for the inaugural meeting. Don’t spring a virtual meeting on board members without first conducting and sharing research, discussing the implications of such a change at an in-person meeting.
It’s up to your nonprofit’s staff to ensure that everyone has the necessary equipment. Test the system ahead of time to ensure it works as needed and establish backup plans in the event of technological failures. Staff should also send board members any supporting materials well in advance of meetings and consider making them available online during the event.
Recognize that voting on any issue will need to be verbal and not anonymous, with each board member identifying himself or herself. Also, certain issues are better suited to virtual discussion than others. Virtual meetings generally work best for straightforward discussions with no controversy — for example, updates from development staff or the formal approval of a policy.
Consider state laws
Do not jump and make the switch to virtual board meetings until you check your applicable state laws for nonprofit board meeting requirements. Some states allow teleconferencing but do not allow videoconferencing. Also, amend your organization’s bylaws to permit virtual meetings before the meetings are held.