I am a member of the board of directors for a number of organizations, both for-profit and non-profit.
I will tell you that there is something that all of my boards have in common – they churn through a tremendous amount of paper. One board I joined about nine years ago used to courier me the board package every quarter – it was a 3” binder packed full of paper. The production and courier costs of those binders alone would have easily paid for iPads for every board member.
It is crazy.
Even today, I have fellow board members arriving with binders, fully printed and tabbed, to each and every committee and board meeting. Say 100 pages per meeting package, multiplied by five board meetings and eight committee meetings per year, equals 1300 pages – or 2.6 reams of photocopy paper.
For years I have been encouraging these organizations to go to paperless. Nothing makes more sense than a paperless board of directors’ meeting. Why paperless? Well, besides the obvious savings in cost and trees, there are a number of other benefits:
Add back the cost savings and tree savings, and the case for going paperless is very compelling.
I will write a post in the near future on how to best run a paperless meeting. For now, I want to focus on how to best distribute paperless digital information to board members. The tool of choice is the Board Portal. I now have one of my boards moving to a full board portal, and many of my non-profit clients have successfully implemented portals for their boards.
The goal of the board portal is simple: provide a place where board members can access the digital information associated with the organization and its board of directors.
The means that the distribution method has to conform to a number of rules:
With those goals in mind, there are a number of products that can do the job. The one chosen by most of our clients, and by my boards, is SharePoint by Microsoft. It can handle unstructured and structured data, and it is something that is readily available at a reasonable price point. In fact, many of our Office 365 clients are excited to learn that SharePoint Sites are included in their Office 365 package.
There are a number of key elements of the board portal that seem to be common for most boards of directors:
All of this material is available through a web browser, 24 hours per day, with the absolute latest information posted for viewing at all times. There are no longer any questions about the latest version of an agenda, or an updated version of some meeting minutes. It is all real time, anywhere, any device access.
There are a few big challenges with moving to a paperless board that must be addressed:
All of these challenges can be easily overcome with some forethought, experimentation and training.
Last week we introduced a board portal for one of my larger, non-profit boards. Twenty people on the board, four standing committees, and one task force. That is a lot of paper, a lot of documents, and a lot of information (schedules, contact info, agendas, minutes, etc.).
Based on our first few committee meetings, we have moved some of the committees to 100% paperless.
Whereas a few months ago we would have had endless binders of information on the table, this past week we have had a dozen committee members sitting around the table, each of them with a laptop or tablet, all accessing the board package through digital means. Truly epic.
It will be interesting to see next week how many of the board members will bring a digital package instead of a binder to our first paperless full board meeting. Stay tuned.