Nonprofits: Consider This When Evaluating Board Portals

Nicholas J Price
4 min read

Nonprofit boards of directors share some similarities with corporate boards, but they also have their own unique needs.

Nonprofit board members might have more responsibilities than their corporate counterparts, as charity board members need to fundraise on behalf of the organization, oversee governance and help drive the organization’s mission — often while doing so under tighter financial controls and more public scrutiny than many corporate board members face. Nonprofit board members may also have more committees to oversee.

When making the switch to digital board management and portal software, nonprofit boards should not limit their searches to vendors that focus just on nonprofits. While nonprofit boards have different needs compared to for-profit boards, it is wise to consider the whole range of potential portals.

Here are some tips for nonprofit leaders evaluating board portals:

1. Ask the right questions. It’s imperative to first examine your board’s particular needs before selecting a board portal.Questions might include:

  • What are your requirements for centralizing documents, scheduling meetings, and securing data?
  • Will a board portal be able to meet these requirements?
  • How will the board portal handle communications?
  • What’s the level of control and visibility needed for directors?

2. Look beyond nonprofit specialists. Organizations should not limit their search to providers that claim they are just for nonprofit boards of directors. Some of these board portals claim to be free, but have hidden charges. Furthermore, these free board portals may lack the robust features competitors have, which may be features your nonprofit board requires.

Consider board portals that have customers that are in both the for-profit and nonprofit sectors. Portals with diverse clients show that they provide flexible solutions.

3. Make sure the board portal values security. Hackers work 24/7 to steal important and sensitive information. And it’s not just the private sector that is targeted. The Urban Institute reported that the National Center for Charitable Statistics was hacked and information about annual reports by nonprofits to the IRS was stolen in 2015.

It’s not just tax information that can be compromised. A data breach at a nonprofit organization within the medical and healthcare industry could compromise sensitive medical records. If a nonprofit board is breached, the reputation of the organization will be impacted too.

As digital technology advances, criminals are also ramping up their tech. Be sure to select a board portal provider who is proactive with its security measures.

4. Consider ease of adoption and use. “A nonprofit director has broader responsibilities such as the overview of management, approval of budgets, fostering management and staff growth etc.,” according to Eugene Fram, a professor emeritus from the Rochester Institute of Technology.

Nonprofit boards need a portal that helps them do their various tasks with ease. Unfortunately, some digital board portal providers do not provide free or unlimited training on their product. When new features are added, will the board provider provide adequate training? Transitioning to a board portal should be done quickly and without disruption to operations. In terms of ease of use, if the technology is too difficult, users will abandon it.

5. Review reputation and service. While there are a wide range of board portal providers, not all are equal. Years of experience, awards or recognition for customer service or app usability, and continuous technology innovation separate the industry leaders from the rest. Be sure to work with a board portal vendor that has at least 10 years of experience in the corporate governance space. They’ll understand the pain points of directors and know how to properly address them.

Additional questions to ask:

  • Does the board portal company or executives belong to any professional bodies and organizations?
  • Are they currently engaged in the corporate governance community and sharing insights on moving the industry forward?
  • Does the vendor have a wide range of clients in the public and private sectors?

Experience and customer testimonies can provide you with the assurance that you’ll select a reputable board portal. Be wary with just-launched vendors, as they have not fully tested their products in the real world.

6. Weigh functionality and technological innovation. Evolving technology needs exist for both corporate and nonprofit boards. If directors sit on multiple boards, or if your nonprofit includes international members, portals that handle smaller non-profits may not be a good fit. If your board uses a popular portal, board members may already be familiar with the software. Board portals that are in an established market can prove that they have been tested by users.

Consider how the portal vendor handles updates and different languages, and if the vendor provides advanced features such as e-signatures and voting, questionnaires, note sharing, document libraries, and digital shredding. These are some features your board might be interested in using in the future. As technology rapidly advances, you should select a board portal dedicated to innovation. When your technology needs grow, a board portal should adapt to meet your needs.

As a leader in digital board portals, Diligent is uniquely positioned to share insights and expertise. For more strategic and tactical advice on buying a board portal, download the Board Portal Buyer’s Guide.