Paper and Digital: Creating a System for Every Trustee

By Adam Wire, AGB OnBoard June 24, 2024 Blog Post

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Recently, Laurel Zawodny, director of presidential development, board and external relations at Bowling Green State University, and Matt Maxwell, senior consultant at AGB OnBoard, teamed up to discuss the challenges of bringing paper and digital together—and how board professionals can overcome these challenges to plan and execute effective, efficient board meetings.

During the conversation, Zawodny and Maxwell shared:

  • Strategies for integrating paper and digital board materials
  • Ways to address common obstacles and increase board collaboration
  • Best practices for leveraging AGB OnBoard in a paper-digital hybrid environment

Here, we share key takeaways from this session.

Board Meeting Preparation Doesn’t Have to Be Painful

Preparing for board meetings can be tedious and time-consuming—especially when the entire board relies on paper. Zawodny knows this all too well.

“In the past, we had board binders with all the information for all our various committees and meetings,” Zawodny said. “These binders typically ranged from 350 to 500 pages per meeting. I was making about 40 binders for each of those meetings, and I was doing it five times per year. We’d put them together and ship them overnight to trustees. It was a lot of work, as you can imagine.”

Often, these materials became outdated soon after being printed. “If there were any changes, they had to be adjusted in all those printed materials that individuals already had,” Zawodny said.

Today, Zawodny compiles meeting materials with AGB OnBoard. “We use the Agenda Builder. You drag in your agenda, and it creates all the entries. It’s so very simple.”

Making updates in OnBoard is quick and easy, she noted. “Someone brought to my attention a typo in our board materials, and we also had to add an action item,” Zawodny said. “In the past, I would have to print and hole-punch new materials and make sure I got the updated materials to all trustees to add to their binders. With AGB OnBoard, it only takes a minute or two to make the update or drag in the item.”

Zawodny also appreciates that AGB OnBoard allows her to get a head start on preparing for board meetings. “You can start building the meeting early and you decide what you want published,” she explained. “It allows work to be done ahead of time.”

A Board Portal Still Has Tremendous Value—Even If You Have Holdouts

The 15-person board at Bowling Green State University has a unique makeup. Nine trustees are appointed by the Ohio governor, two are student members, and four are national trustees.

On any board, trustees have different preferences when it comes to paper versus digital board meeting management. For example, at Bowling Green, two trustees still use printed materials. The rest use AGB OnBoard and bring their devices to meetings to access materials.

Even with this hybrid approach, Zawodny sees a huge amount of time savings.

“Now I create just a small number—five to eight—of paper packets,” she explained. “Even if you don’t have 100 percent participation, [ABG OnBoard is] still really beneficial. It has alleviated a lot of work from our internal employees.”

A Single Source of Truth Is Essential

Trustees lead busy lives, and their inboxes are often full. Finding what they need—and being sure it’s the latest version—can be challenging. AGB OnBoard provides a single source of truth for administrators and trustees.

“There are lots of emails and versions that might be in your inbox,” Zawodny said. “[With AGB OnBoard], everyone knows where to find the final version of something that was presented in a board meeting. That’s really helpful.”

Maxwell emphasized the importance of having a single source of truth. “When you don’t have a single point of truth, there’s a lot of angst,” he said. “It’s a lot to bear—whether you’re tech savvy or not. When you have a single point of truth for everything board-related, your communication can shift from documents to actual governance.”

Every Board Is at a Different Place in Its Journey

Each board is unique. While some have embraced technology, others are more reluctant to dive in.

“I was working with a group that was still printing packets and sending them out via FedEx,” Maxwell said. “Those of you who are printing, you’re not alone.”

The important thing is to do what works for your board. Start small and grow from there.

“In my opinion, there’s no right or wrong way,” Maxwell said. “The board portal should be able to reflect your environment and foster and facilitate true governance.”

Zawodny agrees. “There are lots of features [in AGB OnBoard]. You don’t have to use them all. Once you feel comfortable with parts of [the platform], you can add more into it,” she explained. “Any way you look at it, you’re saving yourself a lot of time.”

The Right Board Portal Can Boost Board Engagement

Digital board management makes preparing for meetings a lot easier for administrators. It also enables board directors to access everything they need from one location. That way, they can come to board meetings prepared for productive discussions.

“It saves us so much time and puts your best foot forward as far as making the information easy to find and ensuring trustees have what they need, when they need it,” Zawodny said. “They show up ready for the meeting and have what they need, which has improved things immensely.”

Transitioning to Digital Board Management Doesn’t Have to Be Complicated

You may encounter resistance when making the switch to a board portal. But it doesn’t have to be overwhelming—especially if you choose a user-friendly platform.

“Looking back, it really wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be,” Zawodny said. “The platform is so user-friendly that we don’t get a lot of questions. It’s very straightforward regarding where all the information is.”

Maxwell added, “The one piece of feedback we get from high education institutions is, ‘We should have done this years ago.’”

Adam Wire is a content marketing manager at AGB OnBoard.

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