New Adventures in Trustee Board Meetings

I seem to remember one of the discussions during Trustee week about how to involve more young people as trustees made reference to the fact that some board meetings are just, well, boring. And of course the many discussions about the barriers to involvement as a trustee include the issue of lack of time, the difficulties of getting there etc. So, I was intrigued by the offer to virtually attend the board meeting of Creating the Future (CtF), the organisation run by Hildy Gottlieb (author of the Pollyanna Principles) and Dimitri Petropolis).

Besides the innovation that I am not an actual board member – and that I was invited to add a fresh perspective to the CtF’s meeting – I am 5,000 miles (not to mention a few time zones) away. So, the board meeting was via Google Hangouts – essentially a free video conferencing tool. You’ll need a broadband connection, a PC with a webcam and microphone/speakers, a Google+ account (which is very useful anyway), plus you’ll need to install a small plugin on your computer (so if you are doing this at work you might need admin permissions). Those who know me will be unsurprised to hear that I got to my PC 3 minutes before the board meeting was due to start without having done the installation. It was very easy and I was ready on time. A tip from Dimitri is that even if your PC has a speaker it’s better to wear headphones to avoid reverb/feedback.

And it works like a treat. You see everybody’s face at the bottom. Whoever is speaking appears as the main face on your screen by some cunning magic. You can write notes in the margin that others can see – a bit like writing notes on your board papers. And that is it…though there are other things you can do, such as important documents and slideshare slides). It’s quite simply brilliant. It’s very easy to use. The main restriction some boards will find is that it’s a maximum of 10 people. (I’m sure M’learned friends will point out if there are other regulatory restrictions, but I can’t think of any.) It turns our CtF’s board are dotted across the US – and using the tool facilitates their coming together. And it’s FREE. I won’t be spending money on conference calls again if I can help it. The very short video below is one of many available that shows you how to get started.

There were other innovations too: for example, the main board ‘paper’ was a video CEO report and agenda that we watched beforehand – and we had a discussion about how more board papers could be short presentations. One of CtF’s board, Alexandra Peters, felt it was a great way to get people to actually prepare and engage for a board meeting (rather than reading them on the way in to the meeting). So, if you want to see how this looks, below is the video for CTF’s November Board meeting and Agenda.

And if you read my blog you’ll know I am a big fan of open data. So I love the fact that CtF’s board minutes are all on their website, available for anyone to read, on a page called ‘Walking the Talk‘. And whilst we’re on walking the talk, here’s a rather useful list of articles on boards and trustees that Hildy and Dimitri maintain.

These are small, incremental changes in the way we’re using technology. They’re also a great example of the transparent ‘networked non-profits‘ we will (need to) become in the future. These technologies don’t replace face to face engagement: as someone in the meeting said, they’re not instead of, they’re as well as. But if they are a solution to some well-known barriers of time, money and boredom, they are worth trying.

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Karl Wilding Karl Wilding served as NCVO's chief executive from September 2019 to February 2021.

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