Tim Ebner is communications director and press secretary at the American Forest & Paper Association in Washington, DC. He is a member of ASAE’s Communication Professionals Advisory Council and a former Associations Now senior editor.
Board portals are helping to bring board members closer together and serve as a central hub for an exchange of resources and information. Increasingly, these platforms are being used to share meeting minutes, record votes, and deliver secure communications. And in some cases, the tool is being passed on as a member benefit.
An opportunity to improve governance operations quite literally tapped Tim Alexander on the shoulder more than three years ago.
Alexander, vice president of finance and administration for the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of Pennsylvania, was attending a meeting when a colleague from the Independent Colleges and Universities of Florida introduced him to a digital portal that engages boards of directors through a mobile interface.
Alexander is now AICUP’s board administrator responsible for circulating critical documents, including proposals, meeting minutes, finance reports, and voting records, all of which contained sensitive business information.
“Imagine emailing a 30- or 40-page document to your board members—a file so big, sometimes it didn’t send,” Alexander says. “That’s what we and our member organizations faced when it came to meetings.”
Not only was the process daunting, but it was also time-consuming without a secure online portal.
Alexander surveyed his members, 89 private colleges and universities, and found that there was no single solution for efficient and secure e-governance. Many members shared correspondence and documents using university email, homegrown software, or password-protected intranet spaces.
We got here by training our board members and institutions on how to use the tool, then we gave them enough space to experiment with its many uses. — Tim Alexander
“We needed a better way to accumulate documents and make governance work effectively,” Alexander says. “What we found was that a secure board portal allowed our staff and board members to share documents from anywhere and on any device.”
The portal AICUP selected, called BoardEffect, relies on security-based permissions, which are designated by staff role—board member, administrator, senior management, corporate secretary, or IT staff. It allows AICUP’s staff and 22 board members to speed up collaboration by uploading files, annotating documents, and collecting votes remotely.
The portal has also created a “trickle-down e-governance effect” that’s benefiting AICUP’s member institutions, Alexander says. Under a software licensing agreement, members can register to use the portal with their own boards at a discounted rate. In just three years, the list of participants has grown from four member institutions to just under 30.
And the board portal has brought the association closer together. Board members and institutions share communications about procurement projects, research, and advocacy through the portal. And in one instance, a member college is using it to manage its 200-member faculty senate.
“Our board portal has become a central hub and shared resource with tremendous member value,” Alexander says. “We got here by training our board members and institutions on how to use the tool, then we gave them enough space to experiment with its many uses.”