Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Remote board participation

Let me start and the end and work back: Should board members be allowed/enabled to attend board meetings remotely by conference phone, conference video and/or Skype?

There's a confluence of events that's pushing us in this direction: A reduction in people's willingness to serve on boards resulting in a lessening of nonprofits dunning (or canning) board members who don't attend in person; the improvement of technology; the expansion of many nonprofits to multiple locations and, as a result, having board representation from those often disparate sites; top flight board members traveling for work less and being used to attending meetings electronically.

So, the next time you revise the part of your bylaws that deal with board attendance and quorums, should your nonprofit allow remote attendance? What's the impact on board cohesion and discussion? What's the policy impact? Is this simply inevitable?

I have a good friend who runs a large nonprofit in Virginia, one that recently merged with a nonprofit in another part of the state. Board members representing both service areas come to meetings with a video hook-up that's hosted at the agency location nearest to them. My friend notes that anyone doing this kind of thing needs a dedicated tech person at each site so that the staff or board members won't be distracted. My friend also feels the technology works well, dialogue is easy since everyone can see everyone else, and that it has increased attendance at meetings.

My question to him was, "..and what about the board member who is on the road and wants to attend via Skype?" He stopped and said, "We can accommodate that, but only to the point that our video screen fills up too much. We'll probably have to set a limit on that."

There you go. You don't want a future where board members never meet in groups, but at the same time, the trade off, if well done can benefit the organization tremendously by increasing board participation.

This will be interesting to watch unfold.

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