[This was originally posted on the NCVO website in December 2010]
What’s the usual structure of your trustee meetings?
You get sent the papers a few days before, everyone has been too busy to look at them, you waste time reading documents and going over old ground, there’s disagreement about who was meant to be doing what and in the end no major decisions are made?
If that sounds like your board then there is help out there and technology might be the solution.
So what are the typical things you do as a trustee board and how might technology help you to do this more effectively?
Before the meeting
Find a date
How long do you spend going backwards and forwards trying to find a date for your meeting?
Use an online tool like Doodle (http://www.doodle.com/) to find the best date for everyone. Simply put in all of the possible dates, set up a poll, send the link around to everyone required and ask them to tick the dates they can make.
Rather than sending around the minutes, agenda and other papers by email and risking filling up peoples’ inboxes, why not use an online document store?
An online tool like Google Docs (https://docs.google.com/) is free to use and could be a place to store all of your documents in one place. Having them online means that there is always a definitive version and you know they haven’t been lost. You can also allow people to collaborate on creating the document, for example adding their own agenda items or updates.
Why not create a Google Account (https://www.google.com/accounts/) for your trustee board? It will help you do some of the other things below.
During the meeting
If one of your trustees can’t physically make the meeting then why not try setting up a web call? Skype (www.skype.com) is free (when the two or more people talking all have Skype on their computer) and easy to use. All it requires is the users to download something from the Skype website, which will need to be done in advance of the meeting.
Record minutes and actions
Use your Google Docs account to create a document at the time of the meeting to record any action points. They will be available immediately for everyone to access.
If you prefer to record your actions in a spreadsheet format then you can do that in Google Docs too.
Outside of the meeting
There are a number of ways you can discuss issues before (or after) a meeting:
- Adding comments to a document: With documents saved on Google Docs, anyone with permission can add their comments. All versions of the document will be available.
- Set up an email list: You could set up an email group for the trustee board (http://www.ictknowledgebase.org.uk/emailmailinglists) so that by sending an email to one address it automatically sends the message to everyone in the group.
- Taking part in an online chat: You could set up a discussion group to discuss any issues. If all of your trustees are on Facebook then set up a private group (http://www.facebook.com/groups/) or alternatively invest in something like Huddle (http://www.ncvo-vol.org.uk/ncvo-huddle), which will store documents as well as host discussions.
- Face to face/virtual chat: Use your Skype account to have a chat with your fellow trustees outside of the meeting. If you don’t want to have a call with them then you can make use of the typed chat facility or even use the chat on Facebook (www.facebook.com) if you have an account.
Network with other trustees
The Charity Trustee Network (http://www.trusteenet.org.uk/) has lots of online resources to support the work of trustees. Sign up to their free e-newsletter or take part in the chair-to-chair e-networking.
Keep up to date with the latest sector news
There are lots of e-newsletters you can subscribe to for all the latest sector news, such as those from NCVO, Third Sector magazine or Charity Times. You can also use RSS feeds (http://www.whatisrss.com/) to have updates from websites sent straight to you, when they have the small orange RSS logo. RSS saves you time and gets you ahead of the game.
For a more general internet search, set up Google Alerts (http://www.google.com/alerts) to look for keywords (such as the name of your organisation or issue you’re dealing with) as they appear on the internet. Connect with people talking about your work or find out about the latest funding opportunities and policy issues. If you’ve already set up a Google account for accessing the document store then the alerts will be easier to manage.
Research funding opportunities
Funding Central (http://www.fundingcentral.org.uk/) has over 4,000 grants, contracts and loans to search, you can save your searches and get updates emailed directly to you.
Seek the views of others, outside of the trustee board
There are probably lots of people out there who are interested in the work you do and have useful ideas to offer so why not try using social media to connect with them. Twitter (http://twitter.com) is great for connecting with passionate and intelligent people, you could set up an account for your organisation, connect with similar charities, ask questions, post ideas, seek opinions.
Recruiting new trustees
There are a number of online tools to help you advertise your trustee vacancies, opening up opportunities outside of your usual catchment area. The Charity Trustee Network has an online trustee finder (http://www.trusteenet.org.uk/jobs-search) and there is also NCVO’s Trustee Bank (http://www.ncvo-vol.org.uk/trusteebank).